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Elephant Rumblings: Puk settling into bullpen role

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MLB: MAY 07 Athletics at Twins Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Monday, Athletics Nation!

I mean, let’s be real. The A’s have lost nine in a row. I’ll save the happiness for an Oakland victory. But there are always silver linings to appreciate, like Ramon Laureano’s return to the club yesterday, with his 80-game PED suspension finally completed.

There’s also A.J. Puk, who notched two scoreless appearances in Minneapolis over the weekend and looks like he might finally be getting into a groove at the major league level after years of struggles and setbacks. Matt Kawahara at the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a piece highlighting Puk’s strong start to 2022.

Puk was the A’s first round draft pick in 2016 and topped the organization’s prospect list at times, but he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his professional career: he underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2018 and missed all of 2020 due to a shoulder injury. Originally slated as a starter, the towering lefty has made all 31 of his big league appearances in relief — perhaps in part because he hasn’t stayed healthy long enough to fully stretch out.

Puk has been hit or miss since his first callup in 2019. But so far this season he’s been rock solid through nine appearances.

  • Puk, MLB 2019-21: 4.74 ERA, 24⅔ IP, 29 K, 11 BB, 3.35 FIP
  • Puk, MLB 2022: 0.69 ERA, 13 IP, 14 K, 3 BB, 1.62 FIP

One factor in Puk’s success this year may be the increased use of a more effective slider. Kawahara noted that A.J. threw sliders 28% of the time in 2021 compared to over 43% in his first eight appearances this season. Opponents went 6-for-16 against the pitch last season compared to 3-for-19 in 2022. Puk says it’s taken time to dial his slider in since adjusting his approach in 2021:

“When I dropped my slot last year (the slider) was kind of side-to-side and I couldn’t really get depth on it, so it was kind of a lot foul balls last year,” Puk said. “I wanted to make it a point to get some depth to try to get a little more swing and miss on it.”

The A’s rotation is still in flux, and Puk has been considered for a starting role as recently as Spring Training. More than half of his appearances so far this season have gone over an inning, so perhaps A.J. will work his way into the rotation at some point. For now, it’s great to see him performing consistently out of the bullpen with his 95+mph four-seamer and a little more swing-and-miss in his slider. Here’s to a healthy, breakout 2022 for A.J. Puk!

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Me too, Mark! I love the old yellow jerseys (and the white ones with the big yellow “A’s).

Scheduled starters for Detroit series.

Hard to top Dallas Braden’s Mother’s Day Masterpiece.

Excited to have Ramon back!

Lots of pink on the field for yesterday’s Mother’s Day celebrations. Love you, Mom!

Sam Moll also maulin’ out of the pen.

Koenig had a big day with the Aviators yesterday.

And Langeliers homered. Again.

Jordan Diaz homered twice on Saturday with the RockHounds.

Tough division.