Modesto Nuts

Stockton native shuts down Nuts

Matt Lujan has emerged as one of the surprises of the San Francisco Giants organization this season, surprising everybody but himself.

And the 25-year-old San Jose Giants left-hander shouldn’t be surprised. All he ever has done on the mound is win.

He won at St. Mary’s High in Stockton, he’s the all-time wins leader at the University of San Francisco, and after Tuesday’s 7-3 victory over the Modesto Nuts, he’s 2-0 in his California League career.

All of that after signing with San Francisco as a supposedly low-ceiling undrafted free agent in 2012, less than a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

You want to root for an underdog? Lujan’s your guy. And now he’s 19-3 in his professional career at three different levels.

“He’s been a very big surprise,” said San Jose manager Lenn Sakata. “He struggled a little bit in his first outing, but he was very good tonight. He has good enough stuff and is very aware of the game. He’s pretty complete for a guy coming into this league for the first time.”

Yes, it’s Lujan’s first trip through his home state. But less than two months short of being 26 and being a four-year college athlete, he is likely more mature than the average California League rookie.

“For me it’s just a matter of staying with the same approach wherever I go,” Lujan said. “As long as I’m out there competing the way I want to compete, the wins will fall where they will.”

Lujan was a league MVP his senior season at St. Mary’s, then won 23 games at USF to establish a school record. Late in the season he was talking to scouts and being told he could be drafted in the teens, perhaps even in an earlier round if the situation was right.

“With two weeks left in my senior season, my elbow blew out,” Lujan said. “I had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011 and the Giants signed me in April 2012.

“It was a long process, but it made me appreciate everything I have. Now I get to pitch in front of my family and I couldn’t be more blessed. I was a Giants’ fan growing up, so all of this has been great.”

His arrival in the league hasn’t been great for the Nuts, the team Lujan’s defeated in both his High-A starts after going 6-2 with a 2.19 ERA in the South Atlantic League.

In Tuesday’s game, Lujan went 62/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits with seven strikeouts against no walks. He allowed a solo homer to Mike Tauchman in the third inning – an off-field shot to left in Tauchman’s first home at-bat with the Nuts.

He also allowed two doubles to Will Swanner, but that was all until the seventh, when Jordan Ribera’s double was followed by Dean Espy’s triple.

The Giants got to Nuts’ starter Jayson Aquino for six runs on five hits and for walks in 41/3 innings. But the real difference in the starting performances was Aquino needed 93 pitches to get 13 outs, while Lujan used 89 pitches to get 20 outs.

And since he’s at an advanced age for the Cal League, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Giants moved him through the organization as quickly as possible, just to make certain of what kind of prospect this non-draftee can be.

“I was going to be late into pro ball anyway as a four-year college guy, but add a year to that for Tommy John,” Lujan said. “And now here I am just trying to work my way up.”