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Former Buckeye pitcher gets a taste of an MLB pennant race

Andy Hayt / San Diego Padres

As the San Diego Padres prepared for their final push for the playoffs, they enlisted the help of a former Ohio State Buckeye for depth in their rotation and bullpen down the stretch run.

On Sept. 1, the Padres promoted pitcher Cory Luebke, from Triple-A Portland, and two days later he made his major league career debut, earning his first career loss after pitching five innings and giving up four runs to the Colorado Rockies. The four runs earned on Luebke came by way of a pair of two-run home runs from MLB All-Stars Jason Giambi and Troy Tulowitzki.

“Tulowitzki was just on a tear at the time. I’ve never seen a guy hit the ball like that,” Luebke said. “Giambi’s been getting paid a long time to hit balls out of the park.”

Luebke redeemed himself in his second start, as he pitched six scoreless innings and yielded only two hits as he picked up a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I really don’t know if I pitched all that better in my second start than in my first,” Luebke said. “Just two pitches can change the way an entire start goes.”

Dodgers manager Joe Torre was impressed.

“He showed a lot of composure,” Torre told the media following Luebke’s second start. “I thought he threw a lot of strikes, which is not easy to do this time of the year.”

Redemption has been the story of Luebke’s journey to the big leagues. After being drafted by the Padres in 2007, following his junior season at OSU in which he was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Luebke finished the year playing for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in the Padres organization.

In 2008, Luebke ran into problems on the mound, as he posted a 6.84 ERA to go along with a 3-6 record, and was eventually sent down to Class A Fort Wayne.

A native of Coldwater, Ohio, Luebke spent the following offseason overhauling his entire delivery with coaches, and credits the adversity he faced with making him the pitcher he is today.

“There were some growing pains, but I’m glad I went through it,” Luebke said. “Everyone’s better off for it.”

Luebke bounced back in 2009 with an 8-2 record and 2.34 ERA for Lake Elsinore. He finished the season with Double-A San Antonio, where he started the 2010 season, before being called up to Triple-A Portland and eventually the Padres.

Luebke’s call-up to the majors couldn’t have come at a more important time for the Padres, who spent the final month of their season in a race with the San Francisco Giants for the National League West championship.

“It’s something that every baseball player dreams of and looks forward to,” Luebke said. “It’s been an up-and-down month for us, but we rebounded well.”

The Padres entered the final weekend of the season three games back of the Giants, needing to sweep them to force a one-game playoff for the NL West crown. The Padres won the first two games of the series but came up short on Sunday, falling to their division rival 3-0.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Luebke said. “That’s a lot more than anyone would have thought before this weekend.”

Luebke made three starts for the Padres before being moved to the bullpen, finishing the season with a 1-1 record and 4.08 ERA. He said he didn’t mind the move to the bullpen, especially if that’s what gives him the best chance at staying up in the big leagues to start the 2011 season.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Luebke said. “I want to do anything I can to help the team and stay up here.”

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