Why Puk will be used as reliever, not starter, right now originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
While the A's lost their fifth straight game Monday to start the 2021 MLB season, there was a 6-foot-7 silver lining.
Former first-round pick A.J. Puk pitched in a big league game for the first time since Sept. 27, 2019, and he was lights out. Puk struck out four batters in 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers while giving up just one hit. His only downside was that he walked three batters.
Despite Puk's strong impression, it doesn't sound like he'll be part of the A's rotation anytime soon.
"Not at this point," manager Bob Melvin to reporters after the loss. "I think he helped us out of the bullpen is what he helped us out with. If we didn't get those innings out of him today, we'd be looking at another real tough situation.
"At this point in time, he got up four times, he threw 60 pitches and right now his role is gonna be helping us out in the bullpen."
That leaves the A's with a starting rotation of Chris Bassitt, Jesus Luzardo, Cole Irvin, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas.
Puk, the No. 6 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, always has had lights-out stuff on the mound. The problem? He hasn't been on the mound much the last few years. He missed the entire 2018 season to Tommy John surgery before throwing 11 1/3 innings for the A's in 2019. The big lefty then missed the entire 2020 season to shoulder surgery.
The Florida Gators product is back to healthy and ready to help the A's win in any role his manager asks of him. Even after another frustrating loss, Melvin had plenty of praise for Puk.
"Based on what we saw, his last outing was his best in spring," Melvin said. "His velo still wasn't there, but then all of the sudden it ticked up today. I think he was up to 95. Like I said, he saved us. We needed those innings out of him, and not only did we get those innings out of him, he was pretty economical and he got results too.
"I think as far as the big league level, that's as well as he's pitched in a time when we needed him to give us the innings."
Puk maxed out at 95.6 mph with his fastball Monday against the Dodgers, with a sinker and changeup sitting around 91 mph. He also induced six swings-and-misses over the 15 batters he faced.
The hope is Puk one day will be part of the A's rotation. That could be as soon as later this season. For now, though, Melvin will use Puk as his do-it-all weapon out of the 'pen.