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A.J. Puk injury update: Could return to bullpen next week

Left-hander has been on IL all season

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

The Oakland A’s acquired a high-profile left-handed pitcher at the trade deadline this week, and they hope to get another one back from the injured list next week.

Rookie lefty A.J. Puk has missed the entire season so far due to a shoulder strain, after also experiencing trouble with the shoulder during the spring. However, he began throwing bullpen sessions nearly three weeks ago, and has now faced hitters multiple times. He’ll pitch to batters one more time on Friday, and if all goes well he could be activated early next week, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

The 6’7 southpaw entered the year as the No. 2 prospect in the organization, sandwiched between fellow lefty Jesús Luzardo and catcher Sean Murphy. His calling cards are powerful upper-90s velocity and a highly regarded slider, and in his MLB debut stint last September he struck out 13 of the 47 batters he faced (27.6%) with a 3.18 ERA and 3.39 FIP.

Puk is viewed as a starter long-term, but if he does pitch this summer then it will be out of the bullpen. Manager Bob Melvin envisions using him for up to three innings at a time, similar to the role filled by Burch Smith before Smith went down with injury, reports insider Martin Gallegos. If Puk plays up to his ability, he could be an impact addition to a bullpen that’s already the hottest in the majors this summer.

The A’s have six other candidates to start games, between Luzardo, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt, and the newly acquired Mike Minor. They’ll need that extra depth over the next couple weeks, as they have three doubleheaders in the span of seven days from Sept. 8-14, in order to make up various postponements. They’re also without swingman Daniel Mengden, who is on the IL and isolating after a positive test for coronavirus.