ARLINGTON, Texas — It was exactly the performance the Oakland A’s expected from AJ Puk.
On a recent Friday night in Texas, the Cedar Rapids Washington product and sixth pick in the 2016 amateur draft came out of the bullpen against the Rangers.
Puk, 24, delivered a perfect two innings of work. Six up, six down, his night finished on 24 pitches, 13 for strikes.
It’s the sort of showing A’s Manager Bob Melvin has come to expect from the 6-foot-7 southpaw who missed the 2018 season after Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.
“We like what we see from AJ. We’ve put him in some really tough spots, middle-inning stuff,” Melvin said. “He’s got good stuff. He’s able to use all his weapons now, not afraid to use them for a couple innings if that’s the case. We’re still in a little bit of a rehab (mode) with him, so we’re cognizant of his workload and when he gets up and when he gets in, but we like what we see and he’s not afraid of any situation.”
Puk, the A’s No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com, was summoned to Oakland in August, making his big-league debut Aug. 21 against the Yankees. He faced three batters. In his eight appearances to date, he is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA.
Before his call-up, he made 18 appearances in the minors — three with high A Stockton of the California League, six with Doulbe-A Midland of the Texas League and nine with Triple-A Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, and pitched well at all three stops.
“It’s always been my dream to be up here. Finally got the call the past couple weeks,” Puk said. “It’s a great opportunity. Just been enjoying every second up here. Yeah, it (my debut) was definitely a little bit of everything (in terms of emotions) just being up there for the first time. It was against the Yankees, which was awesome just because they’re one of the best teams in baseball right now. It was just real exciting and a great experience.”
Even with the A’s making September call-ups after big-league rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players, he remains one of the newest additions to the squad.
And as a member of the bullpen, being a newcomer often means paying dues, enduring rookie rites of passage like being responsible for the bullpen bag, which is fully stocked with snacks, drinks and other things to amuse the relief corps during a long game.
Puk isn’t responsible for the A’s bullpen bag but has another equally important rookie duty.
“I just got to carry the boombox for the bus rides and van rides (to and from the hotel),” he said. “That’s about it. It’s not been too bad.”
His recent ascension to the show makes him the latest Cedar Rapids product to pitch in the majors, an achievement the hard-throwing young lefty takes great pride in.
“We had Perfect Game there (in Cedar Rapids), which was big in my career,” Puk said. “It’s great seeing there’s a couple of us right now. You’ve got (Scott) Schebler with the Reds and then Mitch Keller with the Pirates is from Cedar Rapids, so we got a good group out of that city. It’s cool to see.”
Sitting out last season while recovering from surgery was a tough thing, especially the mental side of his rehab which can often make rehabbing players feel disconnected from the game. However, his long road back was well worth it since Puk is now playing meaningful baseball in September for a team in the race to finish as one of the American League wild card teams.
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“Yeah, it’s exciting times around here,” he said. “You’ve got the wild card coming down to the last month and every game’s meaningful.
“There’s a great group of guys up here. It’s been real fun to try to help out the team. Hopefully we get that push and get that wild card spot. Every game, it’s a must-win game. You just want to come in, do your job and hopefully it’s enough for the win.”