A.J. Puk: The Oakland A’s closer of the future
By David Hill
The Oakland A’s will need to find their closer of the future after the 2020 season concludes. A.J. Puk could be the perfect option.
The Oakland A’s will eventually need to come to a determination with A.J. Puk. He was expected to pair with Jesus Luzardo as a dominant duo atop the A’s rotation, a pair of pitchers the A’s could build around. However, due to injuries, he has been unable to ascend to that throne, making his debut as a reliever last season.
Those continued injury woes have left Puk’s future in doubt. While the A’s would prefer to use him as a starter long term, there are questions as to whether or not he can hold up under such a workload. He may be destined for a role in the bullpen even beyond this year.
Meanwhile, the A’s have a problem on the horizon. Liam Hendriks, their current closer, is set to be a free agent after the season. He has been able to replicate his breakout 2019 campaign, likely pricing himself out of the A’s comfort zone.
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Normally, the loss of an All Star closer such as Hendriks would be a potential issue. Instead, the A’s seemingly have the perfect candidate to step into that role moving forward with Puk. His high octane fastball and devasting slider have already led to the speculation that he could be another Josh Hader type in the bullpen when given the chance.
He did show flashes of becoming a weapon in relief in 2019. While his four runs allowed on ten hits and five walks with 13 strikeouts in 11.1 innings are not to Hader’s level, it was still a strong showing. And that did show signs of what Puk could do over the course of a full season in relief.
Should he return to the A’s from the Injured List this season, he will get another opportunity to show what he can do as a reliever. He will pitch from the bullpen again this year, a potential audition for a high leverage role next season.
The Oakland A’s may still envision A.J. Puk as a starter, but his future could lie in another direction. He could be the long term solution at closer that the A’s need.