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Luzardo Learns New Slider on the Fly; Athletics Love It; Giants Mystified by It

Oakland Athletics rookie starter Jesús Luzardo, knocked around by the Giants when he last saw them mid-August, changed the grip on his slider in the bullpen Saturday, and the result was six innings of scoreless baseball and the new slider, thrown harder and with much more movement, gave Luzardo a new weapon with which to work.

The last thing the Oakland A’s expected to see Saturday was a new Jesús Luzardo.

But there he was, standing on the mound at the Coliseum and throwing a new slider that the A’s had never seen before and the San Francisco Giants couldn’t hit.

The rookie left-handed starter pitched six innings of a 6-0 win over the Giants Saturday, the third shutout by the Oakland pitching staff in five games. He threw his usual 97-plus fastball, but when he wanted to throw a breaking pitch, what came out of his hand was an 89-mph slider that both broke and dove. On this day, it was practically unhittable.

The last time Luzardo had faced the Giants in mid-August, they’d hit him around, scoring six times in 3.1 innings in what stands as his poorest pro performance. At the time, he said he thought the Giants knew what was coming, but Saturday he said that maybe he just hadn’t pitched that well.

“I feel like last time they were really hunting that sinker and I was making mistakes with it,” Luzardo said after getting his record up to 3-2 and his ERA down to 3.86. “I wasn’t putting it where I needed to put it.”

This time around he said he mixed and matched both the sinker and the changeup, and dug deep to find a new slider.

“I changed the grip in the bullpen,” Luzardo said. “And it felt great right before the game. I just went with it. It was harder. It was later, sharper and definitely more down, so it was kind of more of a curve, I guess you could say.

“I mean it was kind of doing a little bit of everything. It was a looked like a slider at times, it looked like a curveball at times. And then it looked like a cutter at times.”

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In terms of velocity, the 89 mph Luzardo recorded with the slider was four mph faster than he’d ever thrown with another slider. It’s just one game, but Luzardo, still just 22, might have moved another notch closer to the dominant pitcher the A’s believe he will become.

He allowed five hits, all singles, didn’t walk anyone and struck out seven. The one time he was in trouble was the fourth inning, when he allowed three of the five hits. Two of them came with two out, and the last of them, off the bat of Mauricio Dubon, could have gotten Luzardo in some trouble. That it didn’t was mostly due to first baseman Matt Olson.

Dubon’s single was a slow grounder to shortstop Marcus Semien, who had trouble picking the ball up, then threw to first too late to beat Dubon. But Olson had his eye on the runner going from second to third, Donovan Solano. He threw behind Solano after he’d rounded third base and third baseman Jake Lamb, who would later hit a two-run homer, was able to slap on the tag for the inning’s final out.

"Once Marcus couldn’t get a clean grip, I kind of figured he was gonna be safe,” Olson said. “So I started watching Solano. Sometimes guys can get a little aggressive, just in case something happens, trying to score. And he took a little too aggressive a turn.”

Luzardo was suitably appreciative.

“That was huge,” the lefthander said. “It saved that inning, and it might have saved me a run at the end of the day. Those are the plays we expect out of Olson, and you shouldn’t ever expect a play like that from a guy. But when Oly makes it that often, it becomes like an expectation.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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