Josh Lueke became the first 2007 Rangers draft pick to reach a full-season league last year when he was promoted to Single-A Clinton after pitching in just two games with the Spokane Indians.
The 16th round selection showed promise as a relief prospect last summer, as he posted a 3.34 ERA in 35 innings with the LumberKings.
A starting pitcher throughout his career at Northern Kentucky University, Lueke entered the 2008 season knowing that it would be his first as a full-time reliever.
Lueke opened the season in Clinton, where he gave up three runs in 10.1 innings before earning a well-deserved promotion to High-A Bakersfield. Although he pitched well early on, Lueke surrendered 12 runs [10 earned] in 11.2 innings in May.
Since the rocky month, Lueke has been much better, putting up a 4.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts and three walks in 22.1 innings.
"The first half was just absolutely brutal," said Lueke of his season with the Blaze. "As of the last month and a half, it is starting to go a little bit better. I started out rough. There have been a lot of downs and not very many ups."
Many relievers limit themselves to two pitches when making the transition from starter to reliever. But Lueke, who did not throw a changeup in college, recently added the pitch as a third offering.
Lueke has already seen some success with the pitch. Left-handed hitters are batting 29 points lower [.255 versus .284] than righties are against him. The rapid development has been surprising, especially given the fact that he didn't begin learning the pitch until this season.
"I started throwing a changeup at instructs last year, then I lost it over the break," he said. "I came back in spring training and didn't have a changeup again. I didn't really throw it too much. Then I came up here and started throwing a split-change."
During a recent game against the San Jose Giants, Lueke flashed an excellent fastball that ran between 92-94 mph. Even though he sits in that range more often than not, Lueke says his velocity has still been somewhat inconsistent.
"Early on in April, my velocity was like high-80s or low-90s," said Lueke, who saw his velocity dip late last season before regaining at instructs. "As of the last two or three outings, it is starting to peak back up there in the 90-95 range."
Because Lueke is in his first full season of professional ball, dead arm periods – leading to inconsistent velocity – should be somewhat expected.
"[My arm] is fatigued like normal," he said. "Everybody is going to get fatigued their first full year. But it is starting to get a second wind."
Lueke also throws a solid slider in the 77-78 mph range. Although he does have issues with location at times, the right-hander has shown excellent stuff with the potential to possess three above-average pitches out of the bullpen. Lueke actually believes location is the key to success in the hitter-friendly California League.
"Just mainly keeping the ball down in the zone and having more command of the changeup and slider," said Lueke. "Last year I pretty much just threw fastballs in and out and got away with it a lot. I got some bad swings on some sliders and stuff. Here, you've got to pretty much pitch in, out, up, down and throw all of your pitches for strikes."
The 23-year-old has been working with his pitching coach, Dave Chavarria, to improve his command through better mechanics.
"Basically just having to keep my front side closed on my slider and changeup," he said. "I want to keep the ball down and get action on it, because otherwise I fly open and that is when I have not had very much success."
Third pitch paying off for Lueke
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