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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Jesus Luzardo returns to action after latest injury

Also, A.J. Puk is getting closer to arriving in Oakland.

Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The 2019 season has been a roller coaster for pitcher Jesus Luzardo, but it’s starting to look up again.

The left-hander opened the year as the Oakland A’s consensus top prospect, and as a Top 20 prospect in the entire sport, but a shoulder injury cost him the first two months of the season. He returned in June and looked great all the way up through Triple-A, but after a handful of outings he went down again in early July with an unrelated lat strain. In a summer that was supposed to see him make his MLB debut and boost the A’s rotation, he instead hadn’t even thrown 20 innings by the time August began.

Fortunately, Luzardo is once again back in action. He pitched on Monday in a Rookie League rehab appearance and breezed through two scoreless innings, striking out five of the seven batters he faced and allowing just an infield single. He needed only 17 pitches and they all went for strikes.

Of course, Rookie League is far below Luzardo’s level of competition. The takeaways here are that he pitched at all, that he came through it healthy, and that he was throwing strikes along the way.

Luzardo is scheduled to pitch again on Saturday, this time for High-A Stockton, reports insider Martin Gallegos. It remains to be seen whether he reaches Oakland this year, but this healthy and successful return to the mound was a huge step in the right direction.

Here’s a video the A’s put together about Luzardo a few days ago:

Can’t wait to see him in the Show!

Puk on the way

There might be another exciting debut before we see Luzardo, though. Fellow left-hander A.J. Puk has now pitched six games for Triple-A Las Vegas, and his own call to the majors could be drawing closer, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle:

“I think once we get home, who knows?” Melvin said, adding that the front office and medical staff must be comfortable with Puk’s workload and the fact that he might not be able to pitch every day. “There are a lot of variables still up in the air — but potentially, we’re getting a lot closer.”

Puk is one of the A’s top three prospects, and got nods in the Top 50 of some national lists over the winter even despite missing all of 2018 to Tommy John surgery. He returned to action in June, looking sharp in three games in High-A and then six more in Double-A. So far in Triple-A he’s struck out 10 of the 31 batters he’s faced over eight innings, with just two walks and four hits.

Puk, A+/AA/AAA: 4.43 ERA, 22⅓ ip, 32 Ks, 9 BB, 5 HR, 5.03 FIP

The numbers aren’t perfect, especially the homers, but he’s bringing his signature heat and missing plenty of bats. He’s serving strictly as a reliever this year as he eases back from his long injury layoff.

Oakland’s bullpen currently includes three lefties, with new acquisition Jake Diekman alongside Ryan Buchter and Wei-Chung Wang. Both Buchter and Wang can be optioned to Triple-A if space is needed.

Midland trio

Next up are the other three top names who missed the 2018 season to injury, all of whom are now healthy and with Double-A Midland.

  • Daulton Jefferies finally walked a few batters but still has a ridiculously low rate overall, and he’s continued plugging along for three good innings at a time.
  • Grant Holmes ran into some trouble in his last couple starts, totaling nine earned runs in under eight innings. However, he bounced back on Friday with five scoreless frames (9 Ks, 0 BB, 4 hits), against the same team that blew him up the previous time out
  • James Kaprielian has now pitched three games for the RockHounds, and been particularly sharp in the last two.

Their Double-A numbers:

Jefferies, AA: 3.57 ERA, 58 ip, 64 Ks, 6 BB, 6 HR, 3.17 FIP
Holmes, AA: 3.74 ERA, 67⅓ ip, 63 Ks, 24 BB, 9 HR
Kaprielian, AA: 3.60 ERA, 10 ip, 10 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 4.26 FIP

But wait, there’s more!

Other top pitchers

First, the good news. Hogan Harris, the A’s 3rd-round draft pick in 2018, is holding his own in his first taste of High-A. The left-hander didn’t pitch in the pros last summer but looked great at Low-A Vermont this year before getting the call up to Stockton.

Harris, A+: 3.46 ERA, 13 ip, 14 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 3.19 FIP

Now the bad news. Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard are getting absolutely smoked in Triple-A. The Pacific Coast League has reached mind-boggling heights of hitter-friendliness, even beyond its usual lofty standards, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for these two sleepers. That’s not to say their entire performance can be pinned on juiced balls and an elevated home stadium, but those factors probably aren’t helping.

Dunshee, AAA: 5.73 ERA, 75⅓ ip, 69 Ks, 34 BB, 17 HR, 6.47 FIP
Howard, AAA: 17.69 ERA, 9⅔ ip, 11 Ks, 4 BB, 4 HR, 8.47 FIP

In three starts, Howard has allowed eight, six, and five earned runs, respectively.