CEDAR RAPIDS — Any pitcher who has been through Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery will tell you one thing. The recovery from it is long and very arduous.
And frustrating. Incredibly frustrating.
“The big thing was taking it one day at a time,” former Cedar Rapids Washington prep A.J. Puk told MiLB.com this week. “It’s a long rehab and you’re away from all of your teammates. I prepared as much as I could each day to make sure I felt good for the next day. You start to break down your mechanics of your pitching and try to change things up. You look at the reasons why you got hurt and start to make some adjustments.”
Puk, 24, was the sixth overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft out of the University of Florida and made a rapid ascent up the Oakland Athletics minor league system, impressing everyone with an upper-90s fastball and wipeout slider, all coming from a 6-foot-7 frame. He had a great spring training last year and very well could have made Oakland’s starting rotation.
But he had to come out of a March start with arm pain, was eventually diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left, throwing elbow and underwent the dreaded TJ. He missed the entire 2018 season and didn’t pitch in an official game until being assigned to high-Class A Stockton in mid-June.
“I’m still getting used to that competition, to throwing in front of fans,” Puk told MiLB.com. “I’m focusing on making sure I still feel good after each outing. Fourteen months out is still pretty early in the recovery still, so I’m focusing on throwing my pitches in the zone and getting some outs.”
Puk made three appearances for Stockton, then was moved up to Double-A Midland. Though he has made four starts overall, he hasn’t thrown more than two innings in any game, and Oakland’s plan is to closely monitor his overall innings count.
If he does end up making his big-league debut this season, it’ll be as a reliever. The A’s haven’t said anything about plans for Puk next season.
He has a 5.02 earned run average in his nine minor league appearances this season. He has allowed 14 hits in 14 1/3 innings, has walked seven and struck out 22.
“The motivation is always in me. Everyone wants to play in the Major Leagues and have a career there, so that’s what you think about every day,” he told MiLB.com. “Right now, I’m worrying about each day, about my recovery and being able to go out on the mound and execute my pitches. That’s the biggest thing for me right now, is getting used to that competition. Once that happens and everything comes together, we’ll see. There’s half a season left, so we’ll see what happens.”
— There’s still well over a month left in the Midwest League season, and the Cedar Rapids Kernels already are better this season than last season. At least in one way.
The Kernels have had 51 players get into at least one game, which is three more than last season’s 48. In 2017, an even 50 players played for Cedar Rapids.
There were 54 different Kernels in 2016.
— Looking at statistics for Rookie-level Elizabethton, which is the club a step below Cedar Rapids on the parent Minnesota Twins’ minor league ladder, guys who could see time with the Kernels below season’s end include outfielder Matt Wallner. He was a Competitive Balance ‘A’ pick of Minnesota in June out of Southern Mississippi and is hitting .314 in 27 games for E-town.
On the pitching side, reliever Osiris German has a 2-0 record and 1.69 earned run average in seven appearances for Elizabethton. He also has 26 strikeouts in 16 innings.
This is all pure speculation, of course. It’ll be interesting to see how many minor leaguers the Twins lose in trades, as the Major League trading deadline is the final day of July.
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