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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk brilliant again in second outings

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The top pitching prospects keep rolling after returning from injuries.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s top two pitching prospects, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, got back on the mound last week after injury absences, and their debut outings went great. On Sunday, the pair pitched again for High-A Stockton, and once more the results were everything we could hope for.

The first two innings of the game went to Puk, in a performance quite similar to his last one. He allowed a solo homer in the 1st and then a walk in the 2nd, just like on Tuesday, but that was all the opponent could muster in between three strikeouts. What’s more, after the walk, the runner was eliminated in a double play. Also worth noting is that Puk had to wait a while for his second frame, as in the top of the 2nd his teammates sent 13 batters to the plate in an eight-run rally. Here are the lines for his two outings so far:

Puk, A+ 6/11: 2 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR
Puk, A+ 6/16: 2 ip, 1 run, 3 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR

As for his stuff, the big lefty had his fastball sitting at 95 mph and topped out at 97, reports broadcast Zack Bayrouty. That’s a couple ticks lower than his debut game, which came with reports of 99 mph, but either way he’s still throwing hard. Of his 30 pitches on Sunday, 20 went for strikes.

The next four innings went to Luzardo, who was even more dominant. The 21-year-old gave up a solo homer just like Puk did, but he upped the ante with nine strikeouts out of 16 batters faced. Luzardo did mix in three singles, but the opponent never got a runner to third base outside of the one dinger. His lines:

Luzardo, A+ 6/11: 3 ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR
Luzardo, A+ 6/16: 4 ip, 1 run, 9 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR

The lefty pumped his fastball as high as 99 mph, two ticks higher than last time, and he sat 95-96, reports Bayrouty. Of his 52 pitches, 38 went for strikes.

Before we get too excited about these gaudy numbers, let’s remember that both of these pitchers are laughably overqualified for High-A ball. They both belong in the upper minors, or maybe even MLB, and are only in Stockton as they ease back into action after long injury layoffs. The important thing is that they’re healthy, they’re pitching, and their stuff is there. The fact that they’re mowing down less advanced hitters only serves to tell us they’re ready for tougher tests.

On that note, Luzardo will make his next appearance in Triple-A, reports insider Katie Woo. As for Puk, she says there’s no word on him yet but that “given the rehab required for TJ surgery, I’d imagine a few more appearances for him in Stockton.”

The A’s bullpen suffered its AL-leading 14th blown save on Sunday, and though the rotation is holding serve for now it has no reliable depth behind the current five. Getting either of these elite talents up to Oakland in the second half of the season, whether Luzardo as a starter or Puk as a reliever, would be a huge boost to the pitching staff.

Other injury progress reports

Quick updates on the other top pitching prospects who have recently returned from injuries:

  • James Kaprielian pitched on Thursday (High-A), and tossed three scoreless, hitless innings for the second straight appearance. He issued one walk and struck out two, while throwing 27-of-34 pitches for strikes.
  • Grant Holmes also went Thursday (Double-A), and had his best game since returning from his latest IL stint in May. He worked three scoreless with just one hit allowed, and for the third outing in a row he didn’t walk a batter. He struck out three.
  • Daulton Jefferies finally had a bad game, in relief of Holmes on Thursday (Double-A). In his first inning he served up a three-run homer, before settling down for the next two frames. Then, like in his last appearance, he continued into a fourth inning, at which point he finally issued his first walk since moving up to Midland. It took until the 110th batter he faced in Double-A before Jefferies recorded a walk. That runner eventually came around to score, leaving the right-hander with four earned runs on his record, after letting through just seven total in his first eight games for the RockHounds.
  • Gus Varland pitched on Friday (High-A), with mixed results. He struck out six batters to one walk in four innings, which is good. But he also allowed four runs on six hits, including a homer, which is not good. I tend to be more encouraged by the K/BB than I am discouraged by the hit rate, but all of it is noteworthy.

Full season lines for each of them:

Jefferies, AA: 3.54 ERA, 28 ip, 27 Ks, 1 BB, 4 HR, 3.86 FIP
Holmes, AA: 3.04 ERA, 23⅔ ip, 19 Ks, 10 BB, 2 HR, 4.50 FIP
Kaprielian A+: 3.71 ERA, 17 ip, 17 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 3.14 FIP
Varland, A+: 4.82 ERA, 9⅓ ip, 12 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR, 4.67 FIP

More recently, since returning from the IL in late-May, Holmes has thrown 15 innings with 10 Ks and 4 BB (and a 1.80 ERA).

Bonus!

And as long as we’re talking about top pitching prospects, let’s mention Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard real quick, even though they’re not injury cases.

After a few rough outings in Triple-A, Dunshee has posted quality starts his last two times out, each time six innings with two runs and five strikeouts. His total line in seven starts for Las Vegas:

Dunshee, AAA: 5.20 ERA, 36⅓ ip, 35 Ks, 16 BB, 7 HR, 5.75 FIP

The dingers are ugly, but he’s only allowed one in his last four starts combined.

Meanwhile, Howard is plugging along in Double-A, with solid-not-great numbers. He’s thrown only two quality starts in his last six tries:

Howard, AA: 3.33 ERA, 78⅓ ip, 64 Ks, 30 BB, 6 HR, 4.16 FIP

That’s similar to his line from last year, with a small tick down in strikeouts. It will presumably take more than that to punch his ticket up to Triple-A, though.