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Miami Marlins name ‘hometown kid’ Jesus Luzardo Opening Day starting pitcher

Miami Marlins Jesus Luzardo (44) pitches during Miami Marlins pitchers and catchers spring training workout at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Florida on Thursday, February 15, 2024.

It didn’t take long for Jesus Luzardo to connect the dots. Miami Marlins manager Skip Schumaker called Luzardo into his office on Monday to talk about the left-handed pitcher’s spring training progression.

Also in the room: Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara, the team’s Opening Day starter the past four seasons who will be sidelined for the 2024 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

“I knew something was up,” Luzardo said.

As the conversation continued, Schumaker asked Luzardo a question that was more of a declaration about where things stood.

“Where is that going to leave you for Opening Day?” Luzardo said Schumaker asked him.

And with that, what was expected became official: Luzardo will take the mound for the Marlins on March 28 when they open the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates at loanDepot park.

“He is deserving of it,” Schumaker said, “and hopefully this is the first of many for him. He’s turned himself into the ace of our staff, a guy that has become one of the leaders in that clubhouse and on the staff. Nobody deserves it more than him, so he was pumped about it. We had Sandy in the room with him, which is a cool moment — Sandy kind of delivering the news to him. It’s just a really cool moment for a manager to see the expression that was on his face when the news broke.”

This is a role Luzardo has dreamed about. Luzardo has been a Marlins fan all his life growing up in Broward County and said Opening Day was one of the few days his dad, Jesus Luzardo Sr., would let Luzardo skip school.

Luzardo remembers watching the likes of Ricky Nolasco and Josh Beckett take the mound to begin the season in years past.

Now, he is set to join that group.

“It’s kind of nostalgic for me to think about,” Luzardo said. “And I know my mom and dad as well are super excited. It brings back memories for them. Just being able to put on that Marlins uniform on Opening Day and being able to pitch is gonna be an awesome experience.”

The Marlins knew Luzardo was going to be critical to the team this season with Alcantara sidelined.

He showed in 2023 that he can be a top-of-the-rotation guy for his hometown team.

Luzardo assumed the ace role over the final month of the season and for the playoffs after Alcantara’s injury in early September. Luzardo made all 32 of his scheduled starts and pitched to a 3.58 ERA while setting career-highs in innings pitched (178 2/3) and strikeouts (208).

“There’s a different feeling when your ace is on the mound that day coming to the ballpark, and people started feeling that with Zeus last year,” Schumaker said. “I started feeling it with Zeus as well. Everybody knew when it was Sandy’s day, and I think everybody started to know when it was Zeus his day, especially the second half moving forward. So yeah, I’m excited for him. Obviously he’s a hometown kid. It’s gonna be a lot of emotions, but I think if anybody is ready for it, it’s him.”

Adding pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.: “He’s our guy right now. ... Luzardo the second half of last season started to step up and I know he’s going to embrace the pressure that goes with that No. 1 spot.”

It’s the latest step in a journey that has seen Luzardo go from what he called the “lowest point in my career” to becoming a key cog in the Marlins’ success.

Miami acquired Luzardo at the 2021 MLB trade deadline for outfielder Starling Marte. At that point, Luzardo struggled through that season, pitching to a 6.44 ERA over 12 starts with the Marlins after the trade before using the offseason to find himself.

He broke camp in 2022 as the No. 5 starter in the Marlins’ rotation and showed glimpses of what he could become. He pitched to a 3.32 ERA and struck out 120 batters over 100 1/3 innings but only made 18 starts, missing extended time due to a left forearm strain.

In 2023, he became Miami’s No. 2 starter behind Alcantara. His confidence and production grew with each outing.

Now, he’s welcoming the opportunity to be in the top spot.

“The trajectory is just crazy to think about,” Luzardo said. “I do think everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t planned. It just kind of worked out this way, but that’s why I think God has a plan.”

As for the message he received from Alcantara?

“He just told me I’ve seen how you work and no one deserves it more than you,” Luzardo said. “And just not to get comfortable. It takes a lot of responsibility to lead the staff. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a group effort. There’s not going to be just the five of us [who begin the season in the starting rotation]. It might be more throughout the year. ... Being able to start us off on the right foot, that’s something awesome.”