A.J. Puk is back and the timing couldn't be better for the Athletics.
The former top prospect made just one appearance for the A's this year before being shelved in early April once again, this time with a left biceps strain. The A's then optioned him down to Triple-A Las Vegas once he was healthy and the results weren't pretty. As of late, that has changed dramatically.
So much so that Oakland recalled Puk on Tuesday and designated veteran reliever J.B. Wendelken for assignment.
Puk, 26, has a 6.08 ERA in the minors this season but that doesn't tell the whole story. First off, Puk has a 7.88 ERA at the Las Vegas Aviators' home field, which might as well be a Little League field. On the road, he has a 3.38 ERA. And he has been much better since late June.
Since June 26, Puk has appeared in 13 games. Over that stretch, he has a 1.64 ERA in 22 innings with 24 strikeouts and only four walks.
After having an ugly 9.42 ERA in June, Puk put together a 1.29 ERA in July. However, his biggest test came just this past week. Puk pitched back-to-back days for the first time this season last Thursday and Friday, tossing one inning in each game.
Health always has been Puk's biggest question mark. Since the A's selected the 6-foot-7 lefty with the No. 6 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Puk has faced a long list of setbacks. He seems to just be an option out of the bullpen, not the rotation, for now and should hole a big key for the red-hot A's.
Winners of four straight and eight of their last 10 games, the A's now are just two games back of the Houston Astros in the AL West. They also are tied with the Boston Red Sox for the top spot in the AL wild-card race and hold a two-game lead over the New York Yankees.
Puk no longer is a prospect, but he also hasn't fully felt like a pro yet. The past is the past, though. The A's have a real chance to challenge the Astros for a division title, and Puk's new title of X-factor could play a vital role down the stretch run.