This season has been far from what Jesus Luzardo envisioned.
Following a stellar Spring Training, the top A's prospect seemed to be a lock to debut in the big league starting rotation. Instead, he's spent most of the season on the injured list. It's been a trying road to recovery, but the left-hander was in dominant form on Saturday as he threw hitless innings in a rehab start for Class A Advanced Stockton.
Luzardo struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced, including the last five, as the Ports blanked Rancho Cucamonga, 5-0, at Banner Island Ballpark. The only baserunner he allowed came on an error in the opening inning.
Gameday box score
"He looks ready to go," Ports pitching coach Chris Smith said. "Whatever he was dealing with or had to come back from, he's cleaned that up. He's making strides."
MLB.com's No. 19 overall prospect settled in nicely, retiring Dodgers No. 14 prospect Jacob Amaya on a groundout before striking out seventh-ranked Jeter Downs. Hunter Feduccia reached on a miscue by shortstop Jeremy Eierman, but that didn't faze Luzardo, who froze No. 17 prospect Miguel Vargas on a called third strike to end the inning.
He breezed through a 1-2-3 second while racking up two more punchouts, then struck out the side in his final frame.
"Everything works for him all the time," Smith said. "He's worked on pitch sequence. ... The goal was to have success tonight but also going forward, to bear down and use his platform."
It was the second rehab outing for the 21-year-old, who missed nearly a month with a Grade 2 lat strain suffered in the first week of July. That came after he was shut down due to a left shoulder strain a few days before the start of the Major League season.
In limited action this season, Luzardo is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA across three Minor League levels. Over 21 1/3 innings, he has 30 strikeouts against two walks. The Florida native reached Triple-A Las Vegas, where he was 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in three starts from June 22-July 2.
Although the injuries have been frustrating, Smith said Luzardo acknowledges the overall goal.
2019 MiLB include
"He understands probably better than anyone that people will remember how he finishes, not starts," the pitching coach said. "He could play a wild card for the A's if they need him. But the main objective is for him to stay healthy for the possibility to pitch in the Majors.
"They got him for this reason -- to be a weapon."
Michael Danielak relieved Luzardo and struck out the side in the fourth, preserving the no-hitter until Dillon Paulson led off the sixth with a double. Ty Damron worked 1 2/3 innings and Will Gilbert fanned four in two hitless frames to close out Stockton's ninth shutout.
A's No. 25 prospect Alfonso Rivas doubled and drove in a run for the Ports, while Jonah Bride delivered a two-run single.