Starting Over: Luis DeJesus Returns to Lake County in Traditional Role

The first time he was on the mound in Lake County, the 6-foot-3, 173-pound, right-hander Luis DeJesus was pitching out of the bullpen for the first time in his life.

While it’s not unusual for players to be moved around to different positions in order to satisfy roster needs, DeJesus’ move during the 2012 season from starter to reliever threw a wrench in the young pitcher’s routine.

The promising stand-out from Diboll, Texas, had finished his freshman season at Angelina Junior College as a starter with a 1.99 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 45.1 innings. Even more impressive was the no-hitter he threw in his first start at Angelina against Galveston College.

However, the 2012 Captains needed pitching fast, and the only place for DeJesus was in the bullpen.

The then-20-year-old first-time reliever pitched four games for the Captains early last season, allowing 11 runs on 15 hits, including two home runs and six walks. DeJesus had a 7.50 ERA with Lake County.

He was moved to Single-A Mahoning Valley later in the 2012 season, where his role as a starter was resurrected. Finally, DeJesus reclaimed his chance to shine.

As a starter for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, DeJesus went 4-2 and pitched 14 games, giving up 57 hits, 24 runs and only five home runs. His ERA was down to 2.02, and he once again was reminiscent of his collegiate and early career numbers.

Signed in the 11th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, DeJesus was a starting pitcher in the Indians’ Arizona League in 2011. He went 3-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 13 games played. He allowed 41 hits, 20 runs, walked 11 and gave up three home runs. His 1.13 WHIP ranked him second in the league.

Starting is obviously DeJesus’ forte. Luckily, in his return to Lake County, DeJesus has been placed in the Captains’ starting rotation instead of being thrust into the bullpen.

DeJesus started for the Captains on Opening Day this season on April 4, pitching 5.1 innings and giving up seven hits and four runs. He walked one batter and pitched four strikeouts, while only allowing one home run.

“We looked up and he’s going into the fifth inning, he only had 45 pitches,” Captains manager Scooter Tucker said. “He’s efficient.”

“I think I did all right,” DeJesus said modestly of his season debut. “I let a few get away from me.”

“I thought he commanded his fastball extremely well,” Tucker said. “He had a good breaking ball when he had to use it.”

Along with his fastball and slider, DeJesus also throws a change-up and sinker.

DeJesus admitted to being, “a little nervous, but a good nervous,” before his debut, but says he also was excited.

“If you’re too nervous,” he said, “you’re not prepared.”

So far this season, DeJesus has pitched four games for the Captains and currently has an 0-2 record. He holds a 5.85 ERA on the season in 20 innings, giving up 18 runs on 23 hits, including four home runs. He has walked only four batters — with three of those four being during his outing on April 22, giving him two walk-less games on April 11 and April 16 — and currently ranks third on the Captains pitching staff for strikeouts with 15.

The season is still young, though, just as is DeJesus himself (he will turn 22 in December), meaning a few speed bumps at the start of the season are nothing to express concern over. DeJesus constantly has been referenced as a player to watch this season. He is ranked as No. 51 out of the Top 60 Indians prospects by Indians Baseball Insider, and his potential has people talking about where he can go this season.

As for DeJesus himself, he’s just excited about the rest of the team this season and the group of men with whom he will be playing. Though not having played extensively with many of his current teammates, he played in rookie leagues with a handful of them. Spring training, he said, also helped him get accustomed to the players he will continue to share the field with this season.

“It feels good, it feels right,” DeJesus said of the 2013 Captains roster. “It feels like a team.”

DeJesus’ enthusiasm for his team can be felt as he describes his reaction to hearing of his team’s success during Opening Day. When he was done pitching, DeJesus went to the locker room to do a post-game work out.

“I ran out there,” DeJesus said when he heard his team won. “I didn’t get to finish, because I was so excited about the game! I heard we scored and I just ran out there.”

“It feels good when a team picks you up,” DeJesus said of the team’s first win.

“He’s attacking the hitters, even when a couple of guys had good swings,” Tucker said of DeJesus at the beginning of the season. “It’s easy to back off and start thinking you’ve got to do something different, and he didn’t. That’s what I was impressed with.”

Perhaps DeJesus’ stint in the bullpen showed him that trying something different doesn’t always work. Now that he’s back with the Captains in his traditional role as a starter, consistency is going to be exactly what DeJesus needs to have another impressive season. As long as he remains confident doing what he does best — starting — the rest of the season hopefully will show him growing into his own as a pitcher in the Indians organization.

“It’s a long season,” he said at Captains’ Opening Day. “But I’m excited for the rest of it.”

Photo: Lake County Captains

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