Oakland A’s: What to do with A.J. Puk when he returns
By David Hill
With A.J. Puk once again dealing with injury, the Oakland A’s may need to make a decision about his future role on the team.
This was going to be the year. A.J. Puk was finally going to get his chance to show that he would be a key part of the Oakland A’s moving forward, that his injury concerns were a thing of the past. He was penciled in as their fifth start to open the season, with the expectation that he would eventually work his way into a more prominent role in the rotation.
The injuries returned almost the second spring training began. Puk was sidelined with shoulder issues which would have resulted in his placement on the Injured List had the season started on time. The break due to the pandemic allowed him to get healthy, resulting in another chance to return to the rotation.
Instead, that troublesome shoulder began bothering Puk once more. He was placed on the Injured List on Monday with a strained shoulder. Manager Bob Melvin indicated that Puk is a long way from returning, as he will be playing catch for the next two weeks before progressing any further.
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Chances are, with this timeline, Puk will not be back for at least a month, which would push his 2020 debut into late August or September. There would not be enough time to get him stretched out for a role in the rotation, leaving him to remain in a bullpen role once again this season, provided that he even returns.
In theory, Puk’s impressive four pitch mix is perfect for the rotation. He had been able to maintain his velocity late into games, and has a devastating slider which misses bats with aplomb. His changeup flashes plus at times, and he has a serviceable curve. This is the type of arsenal that teams dream of for future front line starters.
But Puk’s arm and shoulder have to show that they can hold up to that type of workload. Thus far, they have not, as he has battled the injury bug since 2018. As Puk’s fastball/slider combo would also fair well in the bullpen as a power lefty reliever, it may be a move the A’s want to look at.
Puk still deserves the opportunity to show that he can be the starter that the A’s want. However, he has also displayed the potential to be a truly dominant reliever, with his 13 strikeouts and 3.18 ERA over his 11.1 innings in Oakland last season. For a team that could potentially be losing three pieces in the bullpen, a conversion could be tempting.
The Oakland A’s do not know when A.J. Puk will be back, if he even returns at all this season. While he should eventually return to the rotation, likely in 2021, his future role may be coming into question.