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Luis Madero Impresses On Minor League Opening Day

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Luis Madero (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — High Class A Lake Elsinore entered the 2019 season with a loaded lineup full of top prospects from baseball’s best farm system.

Luis Madero proved up to the challenge.

Madero, the Angels' No. 19 prospect, pitched four scoreless innings as high Class A Inland Empire (Angels) fell to Lake Elsinore (Padres), 3-2, in the season opener on Thursday night.

The 21-year old Venezuelan righthander allowed only two hits, walked two and struck out four in a no-decision. Facing a lineup that included five of the Padres’ Top 30 Prospects, Madero allowed only two balls to leave the infield and didn’t allow a runner past second base.

"My confidence was key,” Madero said through an interpreter. "I just kept making pitch after pitch each inning.

"Confidence is key for me no matter what. No matter who is standing in the box I have to do what I have to do, and that’s it.”

Madero sat 90-91 mph and touched 93 mph on his fastball with late life, helping it play up and get swings and misses at the top of the zone. His primary weapon was a 78-82 two-plane slider that he both landed for called strikes and buried for swings and misses. That slider was responsible for three of his four strikeouts, including of Padres' No. 27 prospect Esteury Ruiz and No. 30 prospect Gabriel Arias.

"He’s got a lot of sweep on it and he’s very deceptive,” said Inland Empire pitching coach Michael Wuertz, the former Cubs and A’s reliever. "He’s able to get ahead with it and he’s able to put guys away with it. It was really the first game action I’ve seen from him. I saw him in spring training, but being able to watch him under the lights and see what he does, it’s pretty special.”

Madero rounded out his arsenal with a fading, 84-86 mph changeup that stayed in and around the zone and drew swings and misses in addition to his fastball and slider.

With all three pitches working, Madero threw 42 of 66 pitches for strikes and departed with a 2-0 lead. The only well-struck ball he allowed was a double by Padres' No. 19 prospect Luis Campusano in the fourth inning. The only other hit he surrendered was a bunt single by Padres' No. 22 prospect Jeisson Rosario.

"I was just working on the plan the team had me execute during spring training and all year last year,” Madero said. "My plan was just attack, get ahead in the count and put guys away.”

The start was the latest in an impressive run of outings by Madero. When the Angels acquired him from the D-backs for reliever David Hernandez at the 2017 trade deadline, Madero had yet to make it out of short-season ball in four professional seasons. But he hit the weight room and began to grow into his body in his new organization, and last year he jumped to high Class A and posted a 2.44 ERA in nine starts with Inland Empire to finish season.

That earned Madero the Opening Day start this year, and he delivered.

"He’s got incredible poise,” Wuertz said. "The year he put up last year, we know what kind of a talent he is, and hopefully it just continues and he takes off from here.”

Once Madero left the game, Lake Elsinore scored three runs off rehabbing Angels reliever Taylor Cole in the fifth inning to pull ahead. Inland Empire outfielder Kevin Williams Jr., the son of former Dallas Cowboys return man Kevin Williams, hit a two-run homer in the second inning for the 66ers’ only runs.

NEWS AND NOTES

— Lefthander Tom Cosgrove combined with three relievers on a four-hitter for Lake Elsinore. Cosgrove worked 91-93 mph early before settling in at 88-90 mph with a 77-79 mph curveball that drew swings and misses in the dirt. He pitched five innings, allowed two hits and two runs, walked three and struck out five.

— Aaron Leasher, J.C. Cosme and Evan Miller combined for four no-hit innings for Lake Elsinore. Cosme showed the top velocity of any pitcher for either team, sitting 94-96 mph early before he took a comebacker off his non-throwing elbow and afterward dropped to 92-93 mph. Cosme, who was making his first full-season appearance since having Tommy John surgery in 2017, also flashed a swing-and-miss 79-82 mph slider, a mid-80s changeup and an impressive 90 mph cutter.

— Lake Elsinore infielder Esteury Ruiz, the Padres' No. 27 prospect, went 1-for-3 with a double, two walks and a stolen base, but it was how he did it that was most impressive. Inland Empire pitchers threw Ruiz a steady diet of sliders away, the pitch he struggled expanding the zone against last year and led to 141 strikeouts in 117 games. Ruiz instead laid off of three sliders away in his first at-bat to draw a walk. While he struck out swinging against a slider away in his second at-bat, he re-adjusted, drew another walk in his third at-bat, and then in his final at-bat of the night reached out and drove a slider away off the wall in right field for his double.

— Inland Empire righthander Aaron Hernandez, the Angels' No. 24 prospect and third-round draft pick last year, pitched 3.1 innings scoreless innings of relief with two hits allowed, two walks and a strikeouts. The 22-year-old sat 93-94 mph early with his fastball before dropping to 90-91 mph in his final inning. He threw a heavy dose of 80-83 sliders in conjunction with his heater and flashed an 83-85 mph changeup. His cross-body delivery added deception, but also cost him some command and led to him needing 61 pitches to get through his 3.1 innings.

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