The Oakland A’s reinstated LHP Jesús Luzardo from the injured list Sunday morning and by Sunday afternoon, Luzardo was on the mound, pitching a perfect ninth inning as he returns to the lineup in an unfamilar spot: the bullpen.
Active for the first time since May 2, Luzardo had fractured his hand when he reacted to a video game. He was very apologetic for what transpired, though his immature mistake cost him his spot in the rotation and now he has to start all over, proving he belongs as a starter again.
Luzardo made six starts to begin the season 1-3 with a 5.79 ERA. LHP Cole Irvin and James Kaprielian were given a small window and have taken the opportunity to leapfrog returning starters like Mike Fiers and Luzardo for their jobs.
To make room for the young lefty’s return, the A’s optioned Jordan Weems to Triple-A Las Vegas. The two will swap places after Luzardo threw 1-2/3 scoreless innings during his rehab assignment with the Aviators. The 23-year-old will have to adjust from having a routine as a starter and pitching every five days, to being ready at the spur of the moment whenever his name is called.
Luzardo said he feels really good and is ready to go after not pitching for almost a month:
“Honestly, I just wanted to go out there and kinda get my feet wet again. It had been a while since I had pitched, the first of the month so just feel out my pitches really. I went out there, I felt all my pitches. They all had the action that I needed them to have and I was comfortable enough with that.”
Luzardo made it clear he is happy to be back and is thankful to continue to work and grow with his veteran bullpen teammates. Luzardo said he doesn’t care if he is starting or relieving, as long as he is helping the team win, he’s happy. His experience in the bullpen dates back to 2019, and he explained the difference between his time then and what it will be like now:
“I think it will help me a lot. In ’19 I think I had a month out of the pen. Last year, I think I had an outing out of the pen. So I feel pretty comfortable with it for the most part. Obviously it is a switch in the routine and all that but I feel like I will be able to make that transition pretty quickly. It’s just a matter of kinda finding my groove in terms of a routine.”
Luzardo will have to change his mindset and adjust to pitching late in games and in tight situations. He won’t be throwing 100 pitches when he takes the mound, which allows him to attack hitters from the moment he takes the mound. Starting is his dream and what he has always done, but he enjoys coming into intense situations as well:
“Me personally, I feel like I love starting. That is something I will always love to do but it’s not in my hands really. Whether it’s an inning, two, or three. Whatever they choose to do with me, I will just go out there and do it until BoMel tells me that’s enough. At the end of the day my heart is on being a starter but like I said whatever I can do to help the team win, it doesn’t matter to me… I always said I kinda like relieving as well. I said I love starting but coming out of the bullpen, late innings, guys on base, kinda tight spot, it definitely gets your juices going.”
Luzardo took the month to really think and learn about who he is as a pitcher:
“I definitely made some little changes, nothing big. Just little changes in my mindset, little changes in my mechanics I guess you could say. I wouldn’t say anything big. It was more just kinda take a step back, slow the game down. Taking three weeks off and being able to see the games and not be involved and watch video of me and study myself. I think it really helped me out.”
Melvin originally said Luzardo will begin in the bullpen to work his pitch count up to get him ready to start, but for now Luzardo is in the bullpen and will be used as a regular reliever for now, Melvin said:
“I will use him however I think is best used to win a game but when he is pitching well you don’t want to take him out. I think that is what it was more than anything. His first year here he had pitched so well we let him roll a little bit so I think he’s up for anything and we’ll just see how it plays out.”
Melvin explained the history of Luzardo in the bullpen and said he will not hesitate to use him in any game situation:
“I did with him last time and he had never pitched in a bullpen in his life so he knows what it’s like pitching out of the bullpen now… So the training wheels are off now. I will use him however we feel is best.”
Melvin said they have a plan on how many innings he will pitch in a game or how they will use him in back-to-back games. Only time and Luzardo himself will determine where he lands and what his role will be for the 2021 season. The A’s bullpen has two saves and four blown saves with an ERA of 6.05 and maybe Luzardo can add some relief length and lower the bullpen’s combined ERA.