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Joey Lucchesi Finds His Stride In Major League Debut

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(Scott Wachter/San Diego Padres)

SAN DIEGOJoey Lucchesi was known throughout his time in the minors for his steel nerves and unshakeable resolve. Opposing scouts noted it, his coaches raved about it and his teammates fed off of it.

That’s all well and good in college and the minors. The major leagues are a different beast, as Lucchesi found out in his debut Friday night.

“Before the game I was just hanging out in the hotel and felt normal,” Lucchesi said, “but when I got here and heard all the noise and what not, friends and family, I started getting the (nerves).

“It was probably the most people I pitched in front of, ever. I tried to not look around. Just focus on the glove. Keep it simple.”

Lucchesi struggled through a shaky first inning but rebounded to complete 4.2 innings in his major league debut. The Padres’ No. 9 prospect took a no-decision in an 8-6 loss to the Brewers.

“I was a little nervous of course because it was my first outing, but I found a way to settle in and I was able to keep my team in the game,” Lucchesi said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

The 24-year-old lefty’s debut got off to a wretched start.

Four scorched balls in the first five batters, a 2-0 deficit after the first inning, and a creeping sense that maybe Lucchesi wasn’t quite ready for the moment.

But that’s when his renowned resolve began to emerge.

Lucchesi retired 10 of his next 12 after the first inning, departed with a lead, and altogether earned positive reviews.

“Joey battled,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “It wasn’t his sharpest. I’ve seen his change get beneath the zone a lot more and he’s gotten chases on that in the past. Today it was much more up in the zone and in the first inning his fastball was kind of leaking back. But as the game went on I think he settled in pretty nicely.”

Lucchesi really turned it on after his team gave him the lead. Back-to-back home runs by Cory Spangenberg and Austin Hedges in the second put the Padres in front 3-2, and Lucchesi ran with it.

He retired seven of eight after getting the lead, including Ryan Braun swinging for his first career strikeout.

Lucchesi was set to complete five innings, putting him in position for the win, but Spangenberg threw away a Travis Shaw grounder on what would have been the third out of the inning. That led the Padres to call on their bullpen to get a more favorable matchup with the tying run on third base, ending Lucchesi’s night after 4.2 innings.

Overall Lucchesi gave up seven hits and three runs, walked none and struck out one. He threw 55 of 75 pitches for strikes.

“I think the more I threw the ball, the looser and more relaxed I got,” he said. “I just felt more comfortable. I was a little tensed up being out there. It was a really loud. But I fell into my zone a little bit and pitched a little bit better as the game continued.”

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Lucchesi gave way to another player making his major league debut. Kazuhisa Makita, the 33-year-old Japanese righthander, replaced Lucchesi and induced Domingo Santana to ground out to short with the tying run on third, keeping the Padres lead intact.

The crafty submariner followed with a scoreless sixth, giving him a clean 1.1 innings in his debut.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be,” Makita said through a translator. “When I got the word right away I was ready to jump in.”

Makita was in line for the win until the Brewers scored five runs in the ninth, capped by Braun’s three-run homer with two outs and two strikes.

The loss was disheartening, and mostly overshadowed the glimpse of the future Lucchesi represented. As the first of the Padres’ talented wave of pitching prospects to arrive in San Diego, he’s got a head start on making himself a part of the franchise’s next competitive team.

“It was kind of surreal,” Lucchesi said. “It was pretty cool being out there. Living my dream. I wanted it as a boy. So it was pretty cool living that out.

“I feel like now that I’ve got it out of the way, I can just build off of that and be myself.”

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