For Jesus Luzardo, home has always been a special place. And on Monday night, not far from home in Miami, he gave a special first impression to the Marlins’ organization.
Though he was born in Lima, Peru, South Florida is all the Marlins’ new fireballing lefty has ever known. The son of Venezuelan patents, Luzardo and his family relocated to the region when he was just a year old. After attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a teenager, Luzardo was drafted in in the third round in 2017 and set sail for our nation’s capital, Washington DC. After just half a season in the Nationals’ organization, Luzardo was traded and made his way west to an entirely new climate 3,000 miles from his front door: Oakland, California. Now, four years after his professional career began, Luzardo has returned to pitch in his own backyard.
“It was a whirlwind of a day for me. I just got off a plane from Salt Lake City to Vegas. I found out on Twitter that I had gotten traded,” Luzardo said regarding the trade process. “I think it’s an exciting opportunity, joining a great group of guys and a great group of young guys. I know they have a lot of fun here. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
On Monday, Luzardo took the mound for the Marlins against the division rival New York Mets. On the same mound on he watched some of his childhood heroes throw, the 23-year-old southpaw, with “954” emblazoned on his glove, provided a great first impression, tossing five innings of four hit three run ball on five hits, three walks and five strikeouts. For Luzardo, to be able to compete at such a high level 45 minutes south of his front door with over 100 of his family and friends looking on made the night extra special.
“I take a lot of pride in where I grew up in Parkland, Florida. “Broward County. People ask me where I’m from, I say Broward County.” Luzardo said. “I think it means a lot.”
Asked what he though about Luzardo’s outing overall, Marlins interim manager summed it up in one word.
“Wow. That’s what I thought,” Rowson said. “The stuff is electric. You watch him throw and you can see why people consider him to be special.”
The outing didn’t come without it’s adversity. After a scoreless first inning, Luzardo labored in the 2nd and to begin the 3rd, giving up three runs on a walk, two hits, a wild pitch and a homer. However, after that, Luzardo was able to rebound, setting down nine of his last 11 hitters. Marlins interim manager James Rowson said Luzardo’s ability to stay competitive really stood out.
“Sometimes you look for those things. You know how good the stuff is and you know how well a guy can pitch. You’ve heard those things, you’ve seen it. The biggest thing to me is when you get into some trouble to bounce back,” Rowson said. “The guy who can show hey, I can bounce back and come back and finish strong. I thought he did a great job of showing that tonight. And then he finishes really strong. This guy has a chance to be special with what he does.”
As well as Luzardo’s Marlins debut went, the lefty said he is happy the first one is out of the way and he can focus on improving as the season goes along.
“I would say this is the most… jittery start of my career. More than my debut when I came in in relief, more than playoff games. Just coming back home and being in front of so much family and friends. It’s great to get my feet wet here and now we can move forward.
“It was really good to see him get out there and get to know his teammates a little bit,” added Rowson. “I know its been kind of a whirlwind for him, getting in town and getting to know everybody and all of a sudden you’re pitching right away. So hopefully now that he’s gotten out there and gotten on the field, he can just kind of take a deep breath, get comfortable and keep doing what he’s doing.”
Behind Jesus on the mound, Luzardo’s fellow South Floridian, Coral Springs High School grad, Lewis Brinson provided the offense with a first inning grand slam, the second of his career and an eighth inning RBI which came on an error. Brinson’s five RBIs marked a career high. Brinson said it was important for him to come through for his fellow Broward County native in his first start with the Marlins organization with much of his support system in attendance. This was just the second big league outing Luzardo has had on the east coast of the United States.
“He went to my rival high school so I’ll let that slide. I wanted to get this win for him, I wanted him to have a good outing,” Brinson said. “I know it’s big being back home. You want to feel comfortable, you have all of your family and friends here. I know everyone was here cheering for him.”
According to Luzardo, even though he’s just now getting to know Brinson as a teammate, they have had a relationship since Brinson was drafted back in 2018. Ironically, this was not the first time Luzardo has seen Brinson hit a bases loaded round tripper in person.
“I grew up watching LB. I went to his high school baseball game the year he got drafted. He hit a grand slam,” Luzardo said. “I remember watchin him, looking up to him. It’s funny; we talk in the offseasons and now I’m on the same team as him.”
Although he’s only been in the organization for a few days, it would appear as though changeup whisperer Mel Stottlemyre Jr has already begun to get to work with Luzardo. During the broadcast, Bally Sports’ Jessica Blaylock said that Stottlemyre Jr told her that Luzardo will benefit from being around Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Rogers, three guys Mel and his development staff completely transformed by enhancing that secondary pitch. In this start, the changeup was Jesus’ second most used pitch. His 24 thrown accounted for 29% of his 84 pitches thrown. Before this start, Luzardo was only using the changeup 19% of the time. The pitch showed extremely well, inducing 13 swings including six whiffs. Only two of Luzardo’s changeups found their way past fielders.
“It’s always been my pitch. Growing up I never threw that hard so it’s a pitch I had to learn early,” Luzardo said. “I feel like I got away from it at times, last year maybe and this year through my struggles. I feel like I’m back on track now physically. I feel like my pitches are doing what they need to do.”
On top of utilizing his changeup for strikes often, Luzardo’s mechanical repeatability, a big crux for him lately, was also on point. Driving into his pitches from his back leg well, landing downhill and hitting the same release point with all of his pitches, Luzardo was in the head of Mets hitters all night rather than them being clued in to what’s coming or taking advantage of missed spots. With those issues beginning to correct themselves, Luzardo will be able to focus on improving consistency of command. If he and Mel can work that out together, his ceiling will be within reach.
This was the version of Jesus Luzardo that scouts thought was possible when they wrote rave reviews about him heading into the 2017 draft. It’s the same South Floridians saw when he was dominating high school competition for all four years of his prep career. Four years later, Luzardo is back home and has begun to do the same at the big league level and it could not be a more welcome sight for the Marlins.
The full circle completing itself. It can be a beautiful thing.