Luebke making case for San Diego rotation

San Diego Padres farmhand Cory Luebke has been promoted up one level in each of his four minor league seasons, so now that he's at Triple-A Portland there's only one more stop to go.

The former Ohio State standout has progressed nicely through the farm system since being a supplemental first-round pick in the 2007 draft. But in order for him to realize his dream of making a major league roster, it's pretty clear what the 6-foot-4 southpaw needs to do.

"He's got to continue developing his change-up," said Portland pitching coach Steve Webber, who has coached Cory Luebke the past three seasons in the minor leagues. "That's got to become a legitimate pitch. It's a little too close velocity-wise to his fastball. If he can master that, he'll have three above-average pitches, and that should help him succeed at the upper levels."

In the interim, Luebke is focused on making his two primary pitches better than average major league offerings. And just as with many others in the pro ranks, he's pitching more off of the fastball.

"It's getting late in the year and I want to try some new things out," he said. "Last year we worked on my arm-side fastball, as well as a few other things. This year we came out and worked on my fastball the other way, so I can cover all corners of the plate. I also need to keep developing my off-speed."

Luebke is off to a solid start in Triple-A, earning three victories and a trio of no-decisions in his first six appearances in the Beaver rotation. However, he's also surrendered 21 runs (18 earned) in 37 1/3 innings so the youngster can chalk it up to good run support from the offense.

After an eight-inning, two-run, eight-strikeout effort at Las Vegas on July 25h, Luebke has struggled in his past three road starts. Although winning two of those three outings, he has allowed 15 runs (12 earned) over 16 2/3 inning and had a K:BB ratio of 10-to-8.

Luebke earned a promotion to the Pacific Coast League earlier this summer by excelling at Double-A San Antonio to the tune of a 5-1 record and 2.40 ERA. But in order to master his current league, he will need to find the right combination of pitches and throw them consistently for strikes.

"I've given up a few more runs than I would've liked, but I think that's because I'm trying new things," Luebke said.

"What it's all about is expanding your repertoire. At the lower levels I would use my slider as a two-strike pitch. I've had to use that earlier in the count at this level. They're more disciplined, look for their pitch and drive it out of the park. At Double-A and Single-A, you've got a lot of guys that aren't hitting for average yet. Now I'm pitching off my fastball and going with it."

From what he's seen of Luebke the past three seasons, Portland's pitching coach feels his student has the pedigree of a big-leaguer if he can dial in a few more things.

"He went to the major league camp (this spring) and took some of the suggestions they made, as far as locating his fastball down and away to right-handed hitters," Webber said. "It has good life and sometimes it sinks. It's made a big difference in the way he's performed. He's got a slider to go along with it and a developing a change-up. He's durable and pitches inside when he has to."

That combination could make Luebke a candidate for the starting rotation next spring.

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