With family in stands, Marlins’ Jesus Luzardo lives out dream to pitch for Venezuela
Monica Luzardo has the same routine every time she watches her son pitch. She is laser-focused on the game, watching every pitch that comes out of his left hand. She doesn’t leave her seat at any point — not for food, water or a bathroom break — until his start is complete.
“I’m fully committed to the game, to every single pitch, every single play,” she said. “I always joke with people who ask me what I do that it’s like I’m giving birth with every out.”
She and husband Jesus Luzardo Sr. had plenty of moments to celebrate on Wednesday as their son, Miami Marlins left-handed pitcher Jesus Luzardo, represented Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic for the first time.
More than 50 family members and friends watched from the stands at Miami’s loanDepot park — Luzardo’s home ballpark — as Luzardo dominated in Venezuela’s 5-1 win over Israel to cap a perfect 4-0 run through Pool D, which also featured the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua. Venezuela will play the runner-up from Pool C in the quarterfinals.
“To me it was very special, very important especially to pitch in front of my family,” Luzardo said. “My grandfather died last year. And he always told me, You are going to make it to Team Venezuela. To me it was something very special. He’s with me; I know that. And when I pitch with ‘Venezuela’ on my chest, it’s very important to me.”
Luzardo did his family and his country proud.
The 25-year-old lefty, entering his second full season with his hometown Marlins, needed just 50 pitches to throw four shutout innings for Venezuela. He struck out five while working around four hits and a walk.
“It’s a blessing,” Jesus Sr. said. “We are from Venezuela. It’s a big baseball country. We are baseball fans. He grew up here. We always loved him playing baseball, and the fact is this has always been a dream.”
Luzardo had a dream performance for Venezuela, which has been the top team in arguably the toughest pool of the tournament.
Luzardo erased a leadoff walk in the first inning with a double play and a strikeout. He worked around back-to-back two-out singles in the second by getting Noah Mendlinger to ground out to first base. He allowed a leadoff single in the third only to follow up with three consecutive strikeouts. And he capped his performance with a four-pitch fourth inning that ended with a double play.
He admitted emotions were high early but he found a way to settle in and dominate.
“That’s what I know how to do — I know how to pitch and that’s it,” Luzardo said. “After the first batter I calmed down, I settled down and I moved forward.”
He’s come a long way to make his dream a reality.
It began when dad bought him a foam bat and ball when he was just a few months old. When Luzardo was 3, not long after the family moved to Parkland, he was setting up makeshift bases in his room to represent a baseball diamond.
“He was the pitcher. I was the batter,” Monica said. “He struck me out every time.”
At 5 years old, Luzardo was in the stands with his family at Game 6 of the 2003 World Series when the Marlins beat the New York Yankees for their second title in franchise history. They soaked in the moment, watching batting practice and having Miguel Cabrera throw a ball to them from the outfield.
For at least a week, Cabrera and Luzardo are sharing a bench with Team Venezuela.
“We kept that ball. Jesus remembers that,” Jesus Sr. said. “It’s full circle now.”
This 5 yrs old kid watched @MiguelCabrera and the @Marlins win the 2003 WS. He is now honored to be his teammate. Proud dad @WBCBaseball @TeamBeisbolVe @Baby_Jesus9 Dios los bendiga a ambos #goVenezuela pic.twitter.com/wzYGiPyoBO
— Jesus Luzardo Sr. (@JesusL65) March 7, 2023
Two decades later, after being a high school standout at Stoneman Douglas and making his MLB debut in September 2019, Luzardo is now establishing himself as an MLB regular as he becomes a mainstay in a young-yet-talented rotation for his hometown Marlins.
The Marlins acquired Luzardo at the 2021 MLB trade deadline from the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Starling Marte. In 12 starts with Miami after the trade, Luzardo pitched to a 6.44 ERA with 58 strikeouts against 32 walks over 57 1/3 innings.
The Marlins weren’t overly concerned with the struggles. They wanted him to pitch through them and get up close guidance from pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. That way he had a better understanding of what he needed to fix in the offseason.
The result? Luzardo had a breakout 2022 season. In 18 starts, he posted a 3.32 ERA with 120 strikeouts against 35 walks, a .191 batting average against and a 1.04 walks and hits per inning pitched rate over 100 1/3 innings.
He improved the metrics on all of his pitches, particularly with his four-seam fastball and sinker. Batters hit just .207 against the four-seam fastball and .220 against the sinker in 2022. In 2021, those numbers were .336 for the four-seam fastball and .358 for the sinker.
His 31.7-percent swing-and-miss rate ranked in the 88th percentile among all qualified pitchers and his 30-percent strikeout rate was in the 87th percentile, according to Statcast.
The only real blemish on Luzardo’s season was a left forearm strain sustained six starts into the season. It caused him to miss two-and-a-half months.
When he returned, he finished the season with a 3.03 ERA and a .198 batting average against over his final 12 starts. Luzardo had quality starts — pitching at least six innings while allowing no more than three earned runs — in nine of those 12 outings, including each of his final four starts.
“The next step for me is just continuously stay as consistent as I did at the end of last year,” Luzardo said. “Just time after time every five days, take the ball and make sure the team knows what they’re getting every time I step out there.”