Hook, Line, and Slider

Fishing can be like pitching. You’re never quite sure what is going to happen when you cast your line into the water, just as you are never quite sure what will happen when you appear on the mound. You can only control your own performance and can control what pitches you throw. In fishing, you can only control what you put into the water. If the fish bite, however, is out of your control. All you can do is offer them something they find appealing.

Luis Lugo describes fishing as his favorite pastime. If the pitcher offers fish the same sort of bait he offers batters, he should be eating well right now.

A native of Barquisimeto, Lara, Venezuala, Lugo, a 6-foot-5, 200 pound lefty, was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Indians on February 28, 2011 when he was 16-years old. He pitched with the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Summer League in 2011, going 0-3 in the DOSL with a 3.38 ERA and 0-2 in Arizona, with a 6.14 ERA. He returned to Arizona in 2012, where he went 2-4 and posted a 4.50 ERA. He pitched in 11 games in 2012, with 10 of those appearances being in the starting role. He pitched a total of 42.0 innings, allowing 30R/21ER on 38 hits. Lugo gave up four home runs and walked 21 batters while striking out 51.

Lugo made his professional debut in 2013, when he spent most of the season with the Short Season-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers before earning a promotion to Lake County. With the Scrappers, Lugo posted a 1-4 record, though he had an impressive 1.97 ERA. In 11 games and 50.1 innings, Lugo gave up just 15 runs (11 earned) on 39 hits with only one home run. He walked 11 batters and struck out 30.

“That was a pretty good experience, it was exciting,” Lugo said of his debut with the Scrappers last season. “The first day I got out there, when I got on the mound, I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and I’m finally doing it.’”

He did not fare quite as well during his first stint with the Captains, which he acknowledged as a result of the difference in levels between Short Season-A and Low-A ball, as he went 0-1 with a 3.77 ERA. Though hardly an ERA at which to scoff, especially for a 19-year-old, Lugo felt that he struggled a bit during the end of the 2013 season. He gave up 14 hits, allowed seven runs, six earned, again with one home run. He walked five in Lake County in 2013 and struck out 14.

This season, Lugo has really settled into his own. The southpaw is using his size to his advantage and is quickly posting career-high numbers at the midway point of the season. Currently, Lugo is 5-5 in 14 games. He has started nine, and appeared in five as part of a piggyback setup with Dace Kime. Lugo posts a 4.50 ERA, though those numbers do not nearly do his performances justice.

Lugo has thrown 62.0 innings for the Captains, a career-high number of innings pitched for a single team for the pitcher. He has given up 49 hits, allowed 36R/31ER, and given up six home runs. Lugo has walked 19 and, most impressively, leads the team with a career-high 76 strikeouts.

Those 76 whiffs also put Lugo at third in the Indians’ Minor League stats for strikeouts on the season. He sits on the list behind two Carolina Mudcats’ pitchers, including his former Lake County teammate Adam Plutko (91 SO), and Cole Sulser (79 SO).

Lugo said this season, his “confidence, [his] mental mindset before the game,” has been the key to his successful season.

“It’s a five-day routine, it’s not just a one-day routine,” Lugo said of the focus he’s had on his game. “I’ve been working with Rigo Beltran, the pitching coach, on my mechanics.”

Lugo said he’s also working with Beltran on his slider, which is a new pitch for him.

“It’s working really good for me,” Lugo said of his slider. “It has helped me improve my curveball, too.”

His performances have been so impressive that Lugo recently received recognition as the Indians’ Minor League Player of the Week for the week of June 9-15. He opened the week on June 9 by throwing a career-high 10 strikeouts against the Dayton Dragons, allowing just one run throughout six innings of work and earning the win in the 5-2 Captains victory. He then earned his second win of the week on June 14 at Dayton. During that 5.0 inning outing, Lugo allowed one run and notched seven strikeouts and no walks. As the Minor League Player of the Week press release noted, Lugo won four consecutive starts between May 27 and June 17, going 4-0 with a 1.66 ERA, 25 strikeouts, and only five walks in that timeframe.

At only 20, the Minor League POTW recognition is one of Lugo’s first professional achievements of that kind.

“It’s a great experience and a great feeling. I’ve never been named before, so I really enjoy it.”

When he gets on the mound, Lugo said he doesn’t approach an outing with the goal of reaching career-high numbers.

“When I go out there, I don’t think, ‘I’m going to strike out people.’ It just happens, and it’s good,” Lugo said. “I really focus on throwing strikes, locating the ball down in the zone, getting ahead early in the counts. That way, you can dictate the game. If you start throwing strikes early in the game, the umpire will start liking your stuff, too, so he may start to call pitches in your favor.”

Despite having a rougher outing during his last appearance on June 20, in which he posted a 6.35 ERA in 5.2 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits, including three home runs with one walk and seven strikeouts, Lugo does not get frazzled by minor setbacks. Take one look at his Twitter account, and you can tell that he is nothing if not inspired. Between tweets of excitement regarding the World Cup and retweets of positive encouragement from fans are messages of drive, with phrases such as, “The bottom line is you can’t be afraid to fail,” and, “Those days when you feel like your [sic] dragging, you just have to push yourself throughout the day.”

“I think you just need to have the right mindset in the right moment; you can’t let yourself down,” Lugo said. “Just because you have a bad start or a bad outing, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You just need to keep working and keep working and get ready for that next start, because every day’s a new day. It’s a new day, a new opportunity to work on your weakness, and to continue working on your strengths, too. Just because you focus on a weakness doesn’t mean you stop working on your strengths. Overall, it’s about hard work and being mentally prepared to go out there the next time and do what you did the first time.”

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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