Jesus Luzardo says he’s ready to fill a spot in the A’s rotation, and the A’s say they’re open to the possibility.
With spring training fast approaching, the A’s have just two set starting pitchers, Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada, who was signed Friday. The other spots are up for grabs, and the 21-year-old Luzardo is officially in the mix for one of them.
“I’m going to go for it even if there aren’t spots,” Luzardo said Friday on the eve of the team’s FanFest at Jack London Square. “It’s not really if there are or there aren’t. it’s my mentality. I’m going to try to get at it and push my way there.”
When pitchers and catchers report to the A’s training facility in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 10, Luzardo will enter his first big-league camp after dominating last season in Class A and Double-A but scuffling in four Triple-A starts.
The A’s must decide whether to keep him in the season-opening rotation or option him to the minors for more seasoning.
Photo: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle
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We know Luzardo’s take: “I would think I am ready.”
Here’s the organization’s take, courtesy of general manager David Forst: “He’s coming in and looking to be part of the starting rotation. We’re not going to rule it out. If he’s good enough, there’s no reason not to have him in the rotation. It’s obviously a big leap for somebody who has thrown only a few innings at Triple-A, but he’s going to get a nice, long look in spring training.”
Teams have been known to manipulate service time of ready-for-prime-time prospects by keeping them in the minors to start a season, thus delaying their free agency and arbitration eligibility and keeping them under team control longer. Forst insisted that’s not in the equation.
“We’ve never weighed service time,” he said. “I don’t think you can point to anybody who’s been here where we’ve made decisions based on service time. So the decision will be whether he’s one of our five best guys versus is it better for him long term to get some Triple-A time. Those are the only two factors.”
There’s little question there will be a need. Several A’s starters will open the season on the disabled list including Sean Manaea, A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton, who’s the furthest along in his rehab and is scheduled to throw off a mound Feb. 4.
Puk’s rehab – like Cotton, he had Tommy John surgery – is about a month behind Puk’s. Manaea, who had a shoulder operation in September, isn’t expected back until after midseason. Yet another Tommy John victim, Daniel Gossett, is behind the others.
Initially, pitching in 2019 seemed a long shot for Manaea, but his increasing range of motion and strength prompted Forst to say, “There’s every reason to believe Sean will pitch at some point this season.”
The healthy rotation options behind Fiers and Estrada are Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Chris Bassitt, Aaron Brooks and Frankie Montas.
And, of course, Luzardo.
“My first big-league camp,” he said. “It’s definitely meaningful. It was an exciting moment when I found out I was coming.”
After posting a 1.23 ERA in three starts at Class A Stockton and 2.29 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A Midland, Luzardo was elevated to Nashville but posted a 7.31 ERA in four starts. Forst said the pitcher was fatigued, and Luzardo said he found himself hanging pitches and has focused on offseason strength work to give him more endurance.
He was limited to 110 2/3 overall innings because of his own Tommy John surgery in high school, but he’ll stretch out more this year. His imposing three-pitch arsenal hasn’t changed, but his mental game improved, he said, after learning more about game-planning and strategically attacking hitters.
He commended Bassitt and Montas for advice they shared while at Triple-A.
“Special kid, special arm,” Bassitt said. “His patience and ability to be calm at such a young age is extremely special. You see young guys coming up in the system, and the game’s really quick for them. Luzardo just doesn’t have that in him.”
Shortstop Marcus Semien, asked about the rotation in general, said, “It’s actually a deep group if everyone’s healthy.” After a pause, he added, “All the hype about Luzardo is real. He’s a stud.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/athletics/article/Big-question-for-A-s-Will-Jesus-Luzardo-open-13563245.php.