They say that you don't know what you have until it's gone. After learning that lesson the hard way, Seth Lugo has a newfound appreciation for baseball.
The Mets prospect recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and gave up four hits over seven innings for his first South Atlantic League win as Class A Savannah blanked Hickory, 2-0, on Saturday night.
A 2011 34th-round Draft pick, Lugo (1-0) faced four batters over the minimum and recorded five of his final six outs via strikeouts. It was his second start since a promotion from short-season Brooklyn.
"I was taking my time and not rushing anything and keeping my mechanics together," Lugo said. "My catcher [Albert Cordero] helped me out on most of my pitches. I know I had a few [strikeouts] on the fastball, but I think most were on my curveball. That's always been my strikeout pitch."
After making his professional debut with Rookie-level Kingsport in 2011, Lugo missed all of the following season after undergoing lumbar fusion surgery. The Louisiana native was unable to resume baseball activities for about five months after the procedure, a layoff that proved to be a blessing in some ways.
"It was pretty rough. It was driving me crazy sitting at home watching SportsCenter," he said. "After my rehab, it really gave me a stronger drive to work harder and get better. I'm actually kind of glad it happened, it gave me a new respect for playing."
Lugo was promoted a week ago from the New York-Penn League to replace an injured Matt Koch in the Sand Gnats rotation. In his South Atlantic League debut, he gave up a run on two hits and fanned 10 over six innings against Augusta. With 21 strikeouts in two games with Savannah, he's almost matched his total with Brooklyn, where he had 27 over 34 1/3 innings.
Things started to come together for the 23-year-old right-hander in his last three starts with the Cyclones as he allowed five earned runs over 17 1/3 innings.
"Up in Brooklyn, I was having quite a few walks in my first few outings," Lugo said. "I talked to [manager] Rich Donnelly about it and realized that I needed to establish the strike zone better. When I'm doing that, it makes it a lot more fun to pitch, really. When my mechanics are as good as they are now, it's easy to have confidence and pound the strike zone."
Lugo turned a 1-0 lead over to Paul Sewald, who fanned four and pitched around two hits over the final two innings to notch his fifth save.
Jorge Rivero and Greg Pron delivered RBI singles for the Sand Gnats. Mets No. 5 prospect Brandon Nimmo singled and is batting .378 in 10 games in August.