CEDAR RAPIDS — When the phone rings at 12:45 a.m., and it’s one of your children, you fear the worst.
But in this case, it turned out to be the best. A.J. Puk is going to the major leagues.
“I saw his name, so I picked up and said ‘Why are you calling so late?’” Dave Puk said Monday afternoon. “He just goes ‘Dude, Dad, I got called up.’ So it was pretty exciting. Pretty surreal.”
A former Cedar Rapids Washington prep, A.J. Puk was promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas and will join the Oakland Athletics for their game Tuesday night at home against the New York Yankees. The 24-year-old left-hander was Oakland’s first-round draft pick (sixth overall) in 2016 out of the University of Florida.
Considered one of the top prospects in baseball, he was having a great spring training in 2017 and had a chance to break camp with the A’s until injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John, ligament-replacement surgery. He missed all of last season and didn’t begin pitching in games this season until June 11.
Though he experienced some elbow discomfort during his rehab, most likely just scar tissue tearing, the stuff that made him such a touted guy has returned post surgery: an upper-90s fastball and wipeout slider, specifically. Originally a starter, Oakland is keeping him in the bullpen exclusively right now.
In 18 minor-league appearances at high-A Stockton, Double-A Midland and Las Vegas, Puk had a 4-1 record and 4.97 earned run average. He’d allowed just 21 hits in 25 1/3 innings, walked 10 and struck out 38.
He didn’t make an appearance longer than two innings.
“I think one of his lowest points (during rehab) came last summer,” Dave Puk said. “He couldn’t even watch baseball. But I’ve never seen anybody more focused to come back. A lot of people, when you’re 23, you could easily go out and drink a lot, enjoy yourself. He stayed healthy, stayed away from all that, went to work every day. I just have never seen anybody more focused. Never. It was unbelievable.”
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Dave Puk said his wife, Chris, and their three other children were going to board planes Tuesday morning in order to make it to California in time for Tuesday night’s game. They plan on staying in Oakland through Thursday.
Odds are pretty good they’ll get to see A.J.’s major league debut.
“A.J. has always been a guy of few words,” Dave Puk said. “He doesn’t like to talk to anybody, doesn’t like to talk to the media, anybody. He’ll give you simple answers. If you ask him if he’s excited, he’ll just say ‘Yeah.’ But I know he’s pretty cloud nine right now.”
Puk joins Cedar Rapids Xavier grad Mitch Keller in the major leagues at the moment. Keller picked up his first big-league victory last week for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Outfielder and Cedar Rapids Prairie grad Scott Schebler began this season with the Cincinnati Reds, though he eventually was sent to Triple-A and recently had season-ending shoulder surgery.
“Finding out they’re playing the Yankees, I’ve gone from being excited to having a pit in my stomach,” Dave Puk said. “Especially if we’re up by one run, and he comes in. That’s going to be ... oh, jeez.
“This is just surreal for us. Surreal and exciting. We are exhausted. Maybe that’s the best way to put it. We’re exhausted right now.”
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