Top Prospect Luzardo Shines, But Aviators Come up Short against River Cats
Jesus Luzardo brought his electrifying left arm to Las Vegas Ballpark for the first time Saturday night and showed a sellout crowd of 10,143 why he's the Oakland A's top prospect and one of the highest-rated pitching talents in all of baseball. Unfortunately, because the southpaw is still working his way back from a shoulder strain, that crowd didn't get to see him for very long.
Making the fifth Triple-A start of his career - and his first this season for the Aviators -Luzardo pitched 3 1/3 innings in Las Vegas' 4-3 loss to the Sacramento River Cats, delivering a performance that could best be graded as "incomplete." Limited to no more than four innings and 65 pitches, Luzardo needed 61 pitches to get through 17 batters, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks. That was the negative.
The positive? Of the 10 batters Luzardo retired, five went down on strikes. That includes three consecutive strikeouts in the third inning, during which the native of Peru and resident of Parkland, Florida, put on a pitching clinic that belied his 21-year-old age. After issuing a leadoff walk to Sacramento's Austin Slater, Luzardo fanned Francisco Pena on three pitches - the first a swinging strike on the outside corner, the second a called strike on the inside corner, and the third a swinging strike at the bottom of the zone.
Zach Green followed Pena into the batter's box and worked a 3-2 count, but returned to the dugout after getting fooled by Luzardo's nasty changeup right down the middle. Then came Aramis Garcia, the Sacramento first baseman who an inning earlier took Luzardo deep over the left field wall for his third home run in as many days. This time, Luzardo won the battle, and he did it by flashing the electric fastball that has helped make him baseball's No. 2 left-handed pitching prospect, firing a 100-mph heater past a swinging Garcia.
Unfortunately for Luzardo, the fourth inning didn't go as smoothly. He gave up a first-pitch leadoff double to right fielder Henry Ramos, who moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored when second baseman Abiatal Avelino singled to left field. Avelino's hit not only tied the score at 2-2, but it ended Luzardo's night.
Thankfully for the Aviators, who took a 2-0 lead on second-inning RBI singles by Corban Joseph and Dustin Fowler, reliever Miguel Romero came out of the bullpen and kept Sacramento (38-36) in check. In his longest outing of the season, the right-hander limited the River Cats to just a single and a walk over 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
While Romero was throwing up zeroes, the Aviators (41-34) reclaimed the lead when Jorge Mateo led off the fifth inning with his 13th triple of the season and scored when the red-hot Sheldon Neuse promptly followed with an RBI single. That 3-2 lead held up until the eighth inning, when Norge Ruiz relieved Romero and allowed a double to Garcia, who moved to third on a flyout and scored on Ryan Howard's infield single. After the Aviators stranded the go-ahead run on third base in the bottom of the eighth against Ray Black (1-0), Sacramento took the lead against Ruiz (2-3) in the ninth on a hit batter, walk, fielder's choice and sacrifice fly.
Las Vegas once again got a runner to third in the bottom of the inning, this time against River Cats right-hander Tyler Rogers. Dustin Fowler led off with a single, moved to second on Black's errant pickoff attempt and advanced to third on Mateo's groundout to shortstop. Although replays seemed to indicate Mateo was safe when Howard's throw pulled Garcia off the bag, first-base umpire Sean Ryan saw things differently.
Still, the Aviators had a chance to tie it, and they had the ideal hitter at the plate in Neuse, who entered Saturday on a 23-for-33, eight-game tear. However, for one of the few times in the last 10 days, Neuse failed to deliver, as he swung through Rogers' high fastball to end it.
GAME NOTES: Joseph had a three-hit night (two singles, double) to boost his batting average to .374, which now leads the Pacific Coast League. The infielder, who scored and drove in a run Saturday, is now riding a seven-game hitting streak, going 14-for-26 (.539) during that stretch. ... Mateo needed just 70 games to tie the Las Vegas franchise record for triples in a season. Joe Thurston established the mark in 2002 with the Las Vegas 51s. Mateo, who leads the PCL in triples, now owns a nine-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 61 of his 70 games this season, including 22 of 24 since May 27. ... Neuse also extended his hitting streak to nine with his RBI single. After going 7-for-9 in the first two games against Sacramento, the third baseman finished 1-for-5. He's still 24-for-38 (.632) during his hitting streak. ... Despite dropping the last two games, Las Vegas is still 10-4 against Sacramento this season, outscoring the River Cats 89-63 in those 14 games. ... Saturday's sellout was the 27th in 37 games at Las Vegas Ballpark, including the third in a row.
ON DECK: The Aviators and River Cats continue their five-game series Sunday, with Las Vegas right-hander Jake Buchanan (3-5, 6.04 ERA) scheduled to oppose Sacramento righty Enderson Franco (2-1, 6.40). First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m., the Aviators' final matinee game of the season at Las Vegas Ballpark.
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