STOCKTON, Calif. -- Neither Jesús Luzardo nor A.J. Puk has thrown a single major league pitch, but both have already faced a great deal of adversity in their young careers.
Each of the A's top two prospects has had to undergo Tommy John surgery before turning 23. Both understand the frustration of seeing their Oakland debuts delayed due to injury.
But through that frustration and disappointment, the talented left-handers have formed the closest of bonds.
"I'd say we became good friends," Luzardo said Tuesday. "Rehab is tough. You have early mornings, but then you have long afternoons with nothing to do, so we spent most of our time together. ... A lot of video games, a lot of of food, a lot of movies."
Luzardo and Puk have quickly risen through the A's minor league system, the two were reunited again Tuesday night as they each made their first rehab appearance for the Class-A Stockton Ports.
Said Puk: "We kind of talked about that for a little bit, like, 'Who's gonna start? Who's gonna start?' We kind of gave each other some crap about that. But it was cool, definitely.”
Puk ended up getting the start and therefore earned bragging rights.
"It's a friendly little competition," Luzardo joked. "But it was funny. I enjoy it."
Both youngsters pitched great. Puk, 24, struck out four batters in his two innings of work, allowing just one hit on a home run by Giants prospect Heliot Ramos. Puk threw 33 pitches, including 22 strikes, sitting at 98-99 mph with his fastball.
Not to be outdone, Luzardo followed with three scoreless innings, allowing just two singles and striking out two. The 21-year-old also threw 33 pitches, including 24 strikes, with his fastball at 96-98 mph.
Puk looked poised to make the A's rotation last season before finding out he needed Tommy John surgery. He describes the recovery process as long and often lonely.
"You kind of feel like you're in the land of the lost," Puk said. "When I first got it, I had an apartment, solo. I'd go to the field, I'd go hang out and not be around anybody, just kind of cut off. ... It was definitely tough."
Luzardo can relate, having undergone Tommy John surgery during his senior season of high school. He fully recovered from that, but suffered a shoulder strain this March.
"It was definitely tough," Luzardo said. "But I'd say it took me about two days to kind of just move on from that. My mentality was just, get better, get back healthy, and get on the field."
The two left-handers have a very different look on the mound, but both are incredibly effective. Luzardo is only 6-feet tall, but can still be overpowering with his high-90s fastball. His breaking ball and changeup also induce plenty of swinging strikes.
Puk, meanwhile, towers over hitters at 6-foot-7 and fires his fastball close to 100 mph. That makes for a pretty intimidating presence on the mound.
Off the field, however, it's a different story.
"He's not intimidating at all," Luzardo laughed. "He's a clown. It's all a front."