JUPITER, Fla. — As Joey Lucchesi discussed his attack plan for Wednesday’s exhibition start for the Mets, his catcher became confused.
Tomas Nido heard the left-hander mention his “churve” and began to question Lucchesi. Did he mean curve? Slider? Changeup? What exactly was Lucchesi saying?
Now Nido knows. The pitch, which Lucchesi developed in college, is a combination curveball and changeup. He throws it in an over-the-top delivery and ideally it cuts away from lefties and darts down-and-in to righties.
“It’s a really good pitch and he commands it well,” Nido said after Lucchesi pitched three scoreless innings in the Mets’ 3-2 loss to the Marlins.
Lucchesi, who is competing for a rotation spot, threw 42 pitches and did not allow a hit, with four strikeouts and two walks. He struggled to command his churve in the first inning, but received better results with it as his outing progressed.
Overall, he threw the pitch 12 times. It registered in the 75-78 mph range as recorded by the scoreboard at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
“That’s just my pitch, my go-to strikeout pitch, so I could put that anywhere,” Lucchesi said. “But I couldn’t get the release point today and I feel like I would have had more strikeouts if I had that going, but thankfully it went my way today, but I have got to work on that.”
Lucchesi’s success with the churve, according to manager Luis Rojas, is predicated upon maintaining fastball velocity in the low 90s that can create “separation.” Lucchesi’s fastball fell within the 90-92 mph range against the Marlins. The pitcher said he would like to reach the point he is throwing 93-94 mph and shows an occasional 95 mph.
“I feel like my velo is progressively getting better throughout camp,” Lucchesi said. “I’m starting to feel like myself again and my rhythm is almost on time. I feel I could have been a little bit better with that today, but I feel like it’s all going to happen in time, so I am real happy with how I am building up.”
Rojas recalled scouting Lucchesi before the Mets began a series against the Padres in 2019. At the time, Rojas was the Mets’ quality control coach and Lucchesi was part of the Padres’ rotation and enjoying success with his churve.
“I was looking at video and a bunch of stuff and I zoomed in to see the grip and everything,” Rojas said. “It wasn’t until I talked to him when we acquired him that I got the name of the pitch and it was described to me. I always thought it was a changeup, just because of the low spin and it’s different.
“You see the high arc and the low spin and you are like, ‘What is this?’ You think it’s a changeup because it’s under 2,000 [rpm] spin rate. So because of the low spin rate I described it as a changeup back then and that is what I told the guys. To hear the name of it is actually something new for me.”
Lucchesi showed another facet of his game, with a pickoff at first base of Jazz Chisholm after a four-pitch walk in the second inning. Before the inning, Lucchesi said first baseman Pete Alonso had mentioned to him that he had never seen his pickoff move.
“[Alonso] told me to give him that slow pickoff move first so he could get used to me,” Lucchesi said. “I was like, ‘All right, I am going to actually pick this guy off,’ so I did a sequence and I picked the guy off. I was super bumped and Pete was bumped, so it was pretty cool.”
Lucchesi, who arrived in a three-way trade over the winter that included the Padres and Pirates, has minor league options remaining. It leaves him on equal footing in that regard with his chief competitors, David Peterson and Jordan Yamamoto, for the opening in the Mets’ rotation.
In his two appearances this spring (five innings total) Lucchesi has not allowed an earned run.
“Every time I step on that rubber I want to prove my worth,” Lucchesi said. “That’s what I am doing out there every time.”