Jesus Luzardo's training wheels are off.
The A’s are expecting big things out of the 23-year-old, who made his season debut and first career start in front of the home fans at the Coliseum on Friday against the Houston Astros.
Luzardo got knocked around by the rival Astros in a 9-5 loss, giving up five earned runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out eight in five innings of work. In the process, he produced a dubious stat line that an A’s pitcher hadn’t matched since Jeff Samardzija in 2014.
OK, so there’s a baseball stat for anything if you draw enough lines in the sand, but Luzardo’s up-and-down appearance was indicative of his season last year. Luzardo possesses nasty stuff that can make him unhittable at times, but hitters are able to lock in and make loud contact regularly in other stretches.
Luzardo ran into trouble in the third inning when he walked Jose Altuve and gave up a double to Michael Brantley, before Alex Bregman belted a three-run homer. In the next frame, he gave up a solo shot to Yuli Guerriel and an RBI double to Brantley.
Luzardo said the Astros were able to jump on his four-seam fastball the second time through the order.
“First time around, fastball worked really well,” Luzardo told reporters in his postgame video conference. “Starting to work fastballs up, that’s something we’re working on, four seams up. That’s starting to become a trend. So, second time around I started doing it. I guess they were prepared for that. I felt like I made some good pitches, they made some adjustments.”
The southpaw finished his evening off with a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, needing 92 pitches to get through the outing. He ran his heater up to 98 mph but we didn’t see his 65 mph “Turkey Sub” curveball.
“Picking and choosing the right spot to throw it,” Luzardo said.
During his media session with reporters on Thursday, Luzardo said his goal was to reach at least 32 starts this season and prove he can be a durable starter who takes the mound every fifth day.
He has never thrown more than 109 1/3 innings in a professional season, but showed the ability to navigate through some trouble and eat some innings Friday. Last year, Luzardo went back-to-back outings of at least five innings on only two occasions.
Luzardo's ceiling is high, but he might as well be a rookie midway through a regular season given his MLB experience: 19 games, 10 starts and 76 innings in his career.
“At times he looked really good,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “They hit some mistakes. Looked like they hit some balls down the middle. They hit some decent pitches. The two balls to Gurriel and Bregman I think are at the top of the zone.
“Other at-bats, especially his last inning he looked really good. He just has to get a little bit more consistent. And control the damage and try to stay away from crooked numbers in big innings.”