To anyone who thought Jesus Luzardo's opening assignment to Class A Advanced Stockton seemed aggressive, you haven't seen anything yet. Promoted to Double-A Midland after only three starts in the California League, the A's No. 2 prospect already is showing he belongs.
"He's ready for it. As far as the kid's character and his makeup and the weapons that he has, he's ready for this promotion," RockHounds pitching coach Steve Connelly said. "It's not aggressive in any form."
Luzardo yielded two first-inning runs over five frames and did not factor in the decision Tuesday as Midland defeated Corpus Christi, 3-2, at Whataburger Field. The 20-year-old struck out five and yielded three hits and a walk, retiring 15 of the final 17 batters he faced.
"This is the first time I've gotten to see him throw live. ... It was pretty special to watch," Connelly said. "I heard a lot of good things about him, so to be able to put my eyes on it and see it in person, it was exciting."
Video: Luzardo strikes out the side for Midland
Luzardo ran into trouble right away, giving up doubles to Myles Straw and Carmen Benedetti to start the game. A groundout and Taylor Jones' sacrifice fly brought in a second run before the left-hander rebounded to strike out the side in the second -- all swinging. Connelly said he would not attribute any of Luzardo's immediate struggles to nervousness on a bigger stage.
"He came into the game and he was just feeling his way around the zone and they came out ready to hit," the pitching coach said. "He ... got himself into a little jam and settled down and decided it was time to get after it a little bit. And once he did, he pretty much controlled the game from then on."
MLB.com's No. 60 overall prospect overcame Arturo Michelena's leadoff single in the third with a sacrifice bunt and a pair of groundouts. He pitched around a leadoff walk to Jones in the fourth with a pair of flyouts and a strikeout before working a 1-2-3 fifth, concluding his outing by fanning Straw.
"Throughout the game, behind in counts, he was the one shaking to his changeup and shaking to his curveball," Connelly said. "He has a great idea of what he's trying to do out there. He has confidence in all of his pitches."
Gameday box score
Luzardo dominated during his short stay in the Cal League. He left the Class A Advanced circuit with a 1.23 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 25 strikeouts and five walks over 14 2/3 innings. His 1.46 FIP, 45.5 percent strikeout rate and .120 opponents' average all lead the league, and the A's move might have been an attempt to keep his confidence high before the hitter-friendly circuit could do environment-aided damage to the southpaw.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School product was taken by the Nationals in the third round of the 2016 Draft, despite having undergone Tommy John surgery earlier that spring. He made his Minor League debut last June 28 in the Gulf Coast League but was dealt to Oakland 18 days later in the trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington. He finished the 2017 campaign at Class A Short Season Vermont and posted a 1.66 ERA with 48 strikeouts over 43 1/3 innings in total. Instead of promoting him one rung to Class A Beloit, the A's sent Luzardo to Stockton to open this season.
Video: Midland's Luzardo fans his fifth batter of the night
Luzardo's rapid advance is driven by the success of his remarkable stuff. He typically works in the mid-90s with his fastball but is capable of reaching higher, and his changeup is considered a plus pitch -- unusual for high school Draft picks, who rarely need to use the offering. Tying it all together is his plus control, as evidenced by 10 career walks in 58 innings.
"His changeup is a plus pitch. ... at times he was rushing his fastball, he was overthrowing at times," Connelly said. "He had settled back down and created good lanes with his fastball and changeup and the breaking ball was there as well. It wasn't quite commanded like his changeup but it kept the hitters off-balance and he was able to control the game."
Despite their reputation, Cal League hitters couldn't touch Luzardo during his three-game stay, with his 20.9 percent swing-and-miss rate leading the circuit. Connelly noticed that Luzardo handled the short turnaround and long trip to Corpus Christi with aplomb and realized that his remarkable poise helps him stay within himself on the mound.
"He's got an incredible makeup. He's got an idea of what he's trying to do out there," he said. "At times, he overthrows. He knows that he's overthrowing and he can recognize it, and he coaches himself back. ... He recognizes when he's doing that and he can throttle it back down and spot his fastball up and, again, he's always got that changeup he can fall back to that he can throw in any count."
Sam Bragg (2-0) earned the win after pitching two innings of one-hit relief. A's No. 8 prospect Sean Murphy was 2-for-5 with his Texas League-leading 11th double.