Josh Lueke is a 26-year-old right-handed reliever in his first big-league camp, which is why it’s rather strange to say he’s as polarizing a player as anyone on the Seattle Mariners spring roster – including Milton Bradley.
Lueke’s 98 mph fastbball isn’t even his best pitch, according to bullpen coach Jamie Navarro. That would be his split-fingered fastball. Navarro wouldn’t be at all surprised, he said, if the team doesn’t break camp with Lueke on the opening day roster.
That may test the stomach of some fans.
Four years ago this May, Lueke had a sexual encounter with a then-22-year-old woman in Bakersfield, Ca. She told authorities she’d partied with a group of minor league players, bar-hopping and, she said, passing out in an apartment Lueke shared with a teammate.
When she awakened, she realized she’d been sexually attacked and filed a rape complaint.
One year later, linked to the woman through DNA, Lueke was arrested and charged with rape and sodomy. In 2009, he plead no contest to the lesser – but still heinous – charge of false imprisonment with violence. He was sentenced to 40 days in jail, but freed for time served.
On Tuesday, Lueke’s attorney said, his probation will end. That’s not likely to matter much to a lot of people, and count the Seattle Mariners front office among them.
While they’ve tried to be supportive of Lueke, whose ability is unquestioned, Mariners executives Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong were horrified when they learned of Lueke’s background – after the trade that had brought him, Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan to Seattle for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe.
General manager Jack Zduriencik said he’d been mislead by Texas, although as any Mariner fan with access to the internet quickly learned, a simple ‘Google’ search of Lueke’s name brought the details of the case up. A month after the deal, the front office fired scouting director Carmen Fusco, one of Zduriencik’s closest friends in the organization.
So Lueke is polarizing, outside of the clubhouse. Inside, teammates haven’t asked, and coaches have treated him based on what they’ve seen of him since the trade, not whatever happened in 2007. Pitching coach Carl Willis saw Lueke pitch last year in Tacoma.
“His stuff is there,” Willis said. “He’s in the mix.”
A complete story on Lueke ran this morning in The News Tribune. Love to read your thoughts.