Jesus Luzardo's pursuit of a spot in the A's rotation came to a stunning halt early Thursday.
The top A's prospect has been shut down for four to six weeks with a strained left rotator cuff, ending any chance he had of cracking the Opening Day roster. MLB.com's No. 12 overall prospect felt discomfort in the shoulder Monday during a side session, general manager David Forst told reporters in Japan, where the team was about to play the second game of its season-opening series against the Mariners.
After a strong showing across three Minor League levels last year, Luzardo entered Spring Training primed to contend for a spot in the rotation, and he took advantage of the opportunity. The left-hander yielded one earned run over 9 2/3 innings in four Cactus League starts, allowing two hits and issuing four walks while registering 15 strikeouts.
Video: Midland's Luzardo strikes out seventh man
That performance signaled that the 21-year-old was picking up where he left off. Luzardo skipped Class A and began last season with Class A Advanced Stockton. The 2016 third-round pick by the Nationals didn't last long in the California League, where he gave up two earned runs in three starts. The A's promoted him to Double-A Midland, where he went 7-3 with a 2.29 ERA and 86 punchouts over 78 2/3 innings in 16 starts. To end the season, the Parkland, Florida, native made four starts for Triple-A Nashville. The Pacific Coast League wasn't as kind to Luzardo -- he compiled a 7.31 ERA and .362 opponents' batting average.
"He's got poise on the mound, but obviously, he's aggressive in the strike zone with all his pitches," A's coordinator of instruction Ed Sprague told MiLB.com last year. "He's got three plus pitches and he's just been impressive from the first time we saw him. The organization loves him not only for his ability, but he's very passionate, involved in the community. We really think this kid's going to be something special."
Oakland was careful in handling Luzardo's workload last season. He never threw more than six innings or 85 pitches. The injury's timing is eerily similar to last year, when the team's No. 2 prospect -- left-hander A.J. Puk -- learned he needed Tommy John surgery two days before Opening Day.
Offseason MiLB include
MLB.com's top left-handed pitching prospect sparked speculation he'd be in the starting rotation by the time camp broke and the A's traveled to Japan. Luzardo did not make the trip and was scheduled to start against the Giants during the Bay Bridge Series next week.
"I'm sure he's a little bit disappointed," A's manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com earlier this month, "but I think he's going to feel it when he pitches in a Bay Bridge Series game, so it's just about keeping him consistent and not bringing him and pitching him over a long period of time. This is a guy we really like. We want to make sure he gets his innings in."
Thursday's announcement means that's not expected to happen until late April or May.