Why Jesús Luzardo believes he's ready to join A's starting rotation

Why Jesús Luzardo believes he's ready to join A's starting rotation

Jesús Luzardo is ready to return to the A’s rotation. The phenom left-hander took an important, essentially final step towards that end, throwing 67 pitches over 3 2/3 innings in Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Luzardo’s pitch count was as important as any stat, showing that he’s stretched out enough to make a start that could last into the fifth inning if he’s efficient.

“My arm is ready, especially after this outing getting the pitch total even higher than it was before,” Luzardo said. “I think I’m ready in terms of strength and how I feel.”

That start could well come in Seattle on Aug. 3. While manager Bob Melvin wouldn’t say when Luzardo would enter the rotation – he has said Luzardo could enter the rotation soon – the left-hander could pitch the series finale against the Mariners on regular rest and slot perfectly into the rotation.

Daniel Mengden is in line to start that day. He was the last addition to the rotation and would logically be the first one back to the bullpen now that Luzardo has proven ready for a start.

The 22-year old phenom has progressed rapidly, considering he was quarantined two weeks after a positive coronavirus test. He threw a bullpen and live batting practice as training camp came to an end. His season debut came in relief on Saturday, throwing 44 pitches over three innings. He went longer on Wednesday following three days off and should be ready to throw 15 or so more pitches next time out.

His stuff was awesome, as always.

“It was great. He had a couple of really good hitters take a good approach on some at bats against him but, other than that, you see a bunch of bad swings,” Melvin said. “The velocity is there. The breaking ball is there. He’s throwing 2-0 changeups to lefties. His stuff is great, and to have it in this fashion after missing a significant period of time in summer camp is impressive.”

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The A’s rotation was set back this summer with both of their young starters unavailable to start the season. Luzardo was behind after quarantine and A.J. Puk is on the injured list with shoulder inflammation.

Chris Bassitt was excellent on Sunday filling in for Luzardo, and Megnden was OK in Puk’s spot. No A’s starter finished five innings the first time through the rotation, though Frankie Montas broke the streak on Wednesday with his second start.

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Adding Luzardo will be of huge benefit when he arrives, adding another ace-quality hurler that will be tough to beat when pitching to his potential. He has been throwing his fastball around 97 mph, with a sinker just a tick below that. He also has a slider, curve and changeup working for him, all contributing to a pitch mix that’s hard to hit.

He’ll soon add all that to the A’s rotation.

“He’s ready,” Montas said. “He’s a fighter. He goes out there trying to get outs and trying to do his best.”

How softball player Paige Halstead fared vs. Frankie Montas in live BP

How softball player Paige Halstead fared vs. Frankie Montas in live BP

A’s starter Frankie Montas was an absolute workhorse during the MLB hiatus. He lifted a considerable amount of weight, threw bullpens and simulated games. He also had to face Paige Halstead for a batting practice session.

Halstead, whose brother Ryan plays in the Giants organization, is used to male competition. She practices with Ryan quite a bit, but her résumé isn’t something to be ignored. 

A 2019 graduate of UCLA, and workhorse herself, Halstead also was a member of Team USA for three summers where she medaled multiple times. She also will be competing in a newly formed professional softball league, Athletes Unlimited, that begins later in August. 

Halstead had never seen Montas throw before. She had seen Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer previously, who also was throwing batting practice to her in the Arizona desert, but Montas was different.

“Honestly, I didn’t know much about him,” Halstead said on an episode of Momentum’s ‘Cork’d Up’ podcast. “I didn’t even know how hard he could throw.”

“I was waiting to hit off of him, one of the hitters there was like, ‘Dude, you know he throws like 100, right?’ I was like ‘What?’ ” Paige laughed. “I had no idea, I think, knowing that, going up there, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just going to swing as hard as I can.’ ”

Sometimes, that’s all you can do. 

During the hiatus, Montas also was throwing those triple digits to a high school kid. He used every outlet he could find to stay active. Whatever he was doing worked, as he got the Opening Day nod and continues to dominate on the mound.

In three games this season, Montas boasts a 2.25 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 23 innings. The velocity on his fastball hasn’t quite hit that 100 mark yet, but that will come with time. 

[RELATED: Montas goes from "dark place" to A's Opening Day starter]

“The first pitch [Montas] threw, I blinked, and it was gone,” Halstead said. “He throws gas, but I just try to close my eyes and swing as hard as I can.”

“He was super nice about it,” Halstead said. “He likes to talk trash too, so that was fun.”

How Tony Kemp has become everything A’s hoped for when he was acquired

How Tony Kemp has become everything A’s hoped for when he was acquired

The second base position was a big question mark for the A's heading into the 2020 MLB season.

Prior to spring training, the team’s main need was a lefty infield bat, particularly to platoon with Franklin Barreto who, if he figures it out at the major-league level, could be a game-changer for an entire lineup.

But Barreto hasn't gotten much of a chance this season, not with Tony Kemp around. He changed everything. Through two-plus weeks of the season, it appears those second base questions have been answered.

On Saturday, Chad Pinder got the start at second just as he did on Opening Day, but Kemp has done a sensational job of filling in when needed, and not just as a runner on second base when the A’s find themselves in extras innings -- which has been the case lately.

In 10 games this season, Kemp is slashing .316/.500/.316 with two stolen bases, and that on-base percentage is boosted by a 25.9 percent walk rate. Not to mention, in the month of August alone, he’s gone 6-for-12 with a 1.147 OPS and is batting .500.

“Tony’s playing very well too, so we’re comfortable with both of those guys,” A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros.

Before the season, Kemp was one of a many options vying for time at second base for the A’s, and now he's splitting time with Pinder.

Even with prospect Jorge Mateo traded to the San Diego Padres, it looked to be a difficult decision to make with Kemp being thrown into the mix with Barreto and Rule 5 addition Vimael Machin also there.

But Melvin hasn’t forgotten about them.

“Barreto and Machin are the guys that aren’t getting a ton of at-bats right now, but at some point in time, they’re going to be called upon whether it’s injury, whether it’s days off, and they’re both working hard to stay ready,” Melvin said.

Beyond the production at the plate, Kemp has blended in beautifully with the team as a whole.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien's hard work sets tone, culture for A's]

Only with the A's for a brief period of time, Kemp noticed the A’s wanted to learn about the “+1 Effect” campaign he launched, and his fun, playful personality lines up perfectly with the tone the team has always set. The productivity is an added bonus.

 “At this point in time, we like how we’re doing it with Tony and Chad,” Melvin added. “They’re both contributing to wins on both sides.”