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Oakland A’s place A.J. Puk on injured list with shoulder strain

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Tough setback for the rookie left-hander

Oakland Athletics Summer Workouts Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have placed pitcher A.J. Puk on the injured list with a shoulder strain, reported Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. He will be replaced in the rotation by Daniel Mengden, Slusser added.

Puk was scheduled to be part of the A’s starting rotation to begin the season. The lefty is one of the top prospects in the entire sport, and he made a solid debut in the majors last September. He had a setback in the original spring training with his shoulder and then recovered while the sport was shut down for the coronavirus pandemic, but now it has flared up again and he’s off to go see LA-based specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache about it.

“Puk’s last summer camp outing on Saturday had lower than usual velocity (91-94) and command issues with 3 walks in 6 batters faced,” reported radio announced Vince Cotroneo.

After overcoming Tommy John surgery to return in 2019, and then getting past his issues from the spring, this latest hitch is both frustrating and concerning. “The fact we have to put Puk on the DL indicates there is a level of concern,” said manager Bob Melvin, via Slusser. See her full writeup for more quotes and details.

The loss of Puk doesn’t mean that fellow rookie lefty Jesus Luzardo will be rushed back too quickly, notes Slusser. Luzardo missed most of training camp after a positive coronavirus test, but is now good to go and stretching himself back out for longer outings; he’ll pitch out of the bullpen at first until he’s ready to start again.

For now, Mengden will take over Puk’s spot, in a rotation that includes Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, and Mike Fiers, with Chris Bassitt already filling in for Luzardo. Mengden, who had minor elbow surgery in March but is now healthy, will need to be activated from the 60-day injured list before the season begins, which means someone else will have to be removed from the 40-man roster to make space. Mengden tinkered with his mechanics during the shutdown and is now armed with a smoother, more repeatable pitching delivery, reports Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.

Montas will start on Opening Day for the A’s, followed by Manaea, Fiers, and Bassitt in a four-game series against the Angels, assuming no changes to the originally reported order of the rotation. Mengden and Montas will then face the Rockies in a two-game set after that. With Mengden moving up to the rotation, there will also be an extra spot to fill in the bullpen, where minor league free agent signing Jordan Weems is already a lock but offseason acquisition Burch Smith still might be on the bubble.