Pitch and innings limits have kept Jesus Luzardo from working deep into games, but that's done nothing to diminish his effectiveness in the second half of the season.
The A's top prospect tossed five scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four, as Double-A Midland rolled to a 9-3 victory over Springfield on Tuesday at Security Bank BallPark. He has not yielded a run over his last 15 1/3 innings and has not been charged with an earned run since June 6.
Video: Luzardo's fourth punchout for Midland
The left-hander thinks his off-speed stuff worked well to keep the Cardinals guessing as he produced his third consecutive scoreless start.
"I really felt like I had control of all my pitches," Luzardo said. "I thought I was able to attack the zone more with my changeup more than I have in the past, so that was a big help, seeing as my curveball wasn't as sharp as it has been."
Facing Springfield for the first time, Luzardo (5-3) threw 40 of 60 pitches for strikes and faced one batter over the minimum. While he fanned four, he kept hard contact to a minimum and got three ground-ball outs and six through the air.
After a clean five-pitch first inning, Chris Chinea lined a single to right field off the left-hander with one out in the second. It was the only time Luzardo pitched out of the stretch all night as Cardinals No. 28 prospect Evan Mendoza grounded out to third before Victor Roache struck out after a five-pitch at-bat.
Gameday box score
MLB.com's No. 20 overall prospect kept Springfield in check the rest of the way, setting down the final 11 batters he faced. The 20-year-old dropped his ERA to 2.81, the lowest it's been since his promotion to the Texas League on April 24.
Luzardo said he's been able to attack little bit more and approach maximum effort because of the limits he has on his starts. But having shorter outings doesn't change his overall approach.
"If I was allowed to go seven or eight or nine, I would just go about it the same way," he said. "Like in the fifth, I still feel strong and I still feel good, so I don't see any need to slow down."
There hasn't been one thing that's led to his success since the beginning of June, Luzardo said, adding that everything has kind of come together recently.
"It's just a whole mix of things," he said. "It's kind of my mentality and a feel. I have a lot more feel now than when I first got here [to Midland]. So it's more confidence, it's a confidence thing. ... I've definitely had to mix and use all my pitches more. I've learned how to mix more and not just rely on one certain pitch over a whole game. It's making adjustments mid-at-bats. I've learned to do that and it's been so far, so good."
After posting a 5.16 ERA through five May starts, Luzardo has yielded one earned run over his last 25 innings, good for a 0.36 ERA in his last five starts. In 15 starts between Class A Advanced Stockton and the RockHounds, the southpaw is 7-4 with a 2.49 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over 72 1/3 innings.
A Texas League All-Star in his second professional season, Luzardo said the midsummer classic at his home ballpark was a nice learning experience. Not only did he pick up some lessons from the veterans there, he also got a little inside knowledge into what the league's hitters think of his repertoire. Whether it was what they thought of his fastball or his breaking stuff, Luzardo said he gained plenty from those he talked with during the All-Star Game.
"It was fun getting talk to the guys and meeting a bunch of the guys in the league," he said. "You definitely learn a lot from talking to certain guys and older guys. I got a bunch of good tips. ... It was more of the opposing team's hitters than the opposing team's pitchers."
Backing up Luzardo, Eli White went 4-for-4 with an RBI out of the leadoff spot, while Seth Brown collected three hits and scored three times.
Cardinals No. 29 prospect Ramon Urias homered and doubled for Springfield, while Lane Thomas delivered a two-run triple.