A pair of highly talented Athletics lefties returned to competitive action yesterday after long layoffs. Prospects A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo each began injury rehab assignments last night, appearing for the High-A Stockton Ports.
That news is quite promising on its own. Better still for the A’s, the southpaw duo looked to be in fine form. As Tyler Maun of MiLB.com writes, both hurlers impressed in 33-pitch piggyback appearances.
Puk came out blazing in his first competitive work since the 2017 season, working in the upper nineties with his acclaimed heater. He ultimately ran up four strikeouts in two frames while permitting one run on one hit — a home run from highly regarded Giants prospect Heliot Ramos.
It’s excellent to see that Puk has regained his arm speed since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He underwent the procedure in April of 2011, temporarily halting what was likely to be a quick run through the Oakland farm system. Puk, who went sixth overall in the 2016 draft, had been expected to make his way to the majors early in the 2018 campaign after an impressive showing in MLB camp that year.
The story isn’t altogether different for Luzardo, who featured in a similar role in the spring of 2019. He also had hopes of a swift rise to the majors dashed by injury. In his case, shoulder troubles caused the team to order a shutdown late in camp. The organization understandably set a cautious course for the 21-year-old hurler.
Last night, Luzardo spun three scoreless frames. He struck out two, with Ramos among the victims, while logging 24 strikes in his 33 pitches. That’s efficient work from the precocious hurler, who is known most for his exceptional feel and command over his three-pitch arsenal.
Where things go from here will depend upon quite a few factors, including the way that Puk and Luzardo recover from their first big tests. There’s little question that they’ll be tasked with multiple additional rehab starts while they build up their pitch counts and the club evaluates their readiness. But it’s hard not to dream on successive MLB debuts as soon as early July.
“I just know that they’re going to be throwing pretty consistently now until the end of the year,” Stockton pitching coach Chris Smith says. “The gloves are off. They want to see those kids hit the ground running.”
That’s an encouraging takeaway for A’s fans. These exciting young pitchers still have hurdles to clear before reaching the majors, but that goal is now clearly in sight. Adding them to a generally subpar rotation mix would completely change the complexion of the Oakland pitching staff. Whether that’ll occur remains to be seen, but the A’s ought to have a good sense before the trade deadline.