Jose Lugo was one step away from the Major Leagues for the fourth consecutive year. But for the second straight season, he will conclude his campaign with Double-A Mississippi. It's not a huge surprise to Braves pitching coach Mike Alvarez.
"It's been my experience that you get one spot closer and these guys try to do too much," Alvarez said. "You try to be consistent as possible, but they try to do more. They want to throw harder. They want their breaking ball to be nastier. They just try to overcompensate in everything they do. Good should be good enough."
Lugo, who pitched for Triple-A Rochester in 2009-'10 and Gwinnett each of the past two seasons, exhibited to both his pitching coach and the rest of the Southern League what he's capable of Sunday night.
The 28-year-old left-hander allowed just one hit in seven innings, but couldn't keep the Braves from falling to Huntsville, 4-3. He also tied a season high with eight strikeouts and issued only two walks in the start -- his seventh in 10 appearances for Mississippi and 14th in 30 games overall.
The lone hit came in the fourth inning when Hainley Statia singled to lead off the frame. Following Scooter Gennett's failed bunt, Lugo (3-3) walked Andy Gonzalez to put his first and only runner in scoring position. But he forced Hunter Morris to pop into a double play back to the pitcher.
The southpaw, who owns a delivery his coach called "herky-jerky," went on to retire the next nine Stars in a row -- including Gennett, Gonzalez and Morris on strikeouts in the seventh -- and finished with 104 pitches, 68 for strikes.
"It took a little while for him to get going, but he seemed to put everything together as he went along," Alvarez said. "He was really locating the fastball well and then he was able to work in the slider and changeup off that. That combination seemed to really keep the other guys off balance. Nobody seemed comfortable tonight."
Sunday marked the first time Lugo did not allow a run in any appearance since June 14, when he tossed 2 1/3 shutout innings in relief for Triple-A Gwinnett. After that outing, the Braves moved him back to the rotation, but the results were disastrous.
In six starts, the 6-foot-1 lefty was 1-4 with an 8.03 ERA and 2.14 WHIP. He ended up returning to Double-A, where he had finished 2011 and started '12. The M-Braves moved him back to the bullpen before a doubleheader Aug. 14 put him back into the rotation.
The move has stuck, and the team expects the Dominican Republic native to make two more starts before the end of the season. His experience as both a starter and a reliever is what Alvarez thinks will be his biggest strength if he hopes to return to Gwinnett or perhaps go beyond.
"He has an uncanny ability to rebound well, no matter what his role is," the pitching coach said. "He can certainly come out of the bullpen. He's got that funky little delivery and hides the ball pretty well to get that needed deception.
"Whatever's ahead of him, he does and he does well. [Moving up and down] could affect some guys, but he's strong enough mentally to handle it."
Reliever Erik Cordier allowed four runs while recording just an out in the eighth and took the loss. Statia led the way for the Stars in the frame with a two-run single while Gennett and Adam Weisenburger added RBIs.
Braves shortstop Jaime Pedroza hit a solo shot in the seventh.