A.J. Puk didn’t have to wait long to get his call up to Oakland.
The A’s top pitching prospect received a promotion to the big leagues from the team’s Stockton alternate site Monday after Chad Pinder was placed on the 10-day injured list with a sprained left knee.
Pinder injured himself on an acrobatic catch in the first inning of Sunday’s 9-2 loss to the Houston Astros. He stayed in the game initially but was replaced by pinch-hitter Stephen Piscotty his next at-bat.
The A’s will now carry 14 pitchers after burning through its bullpen in the “embarrassing” season-opening, four-game sweep against the Houston Astros. Melvin said Puk will pitch out of the bullpen to start his assignment.
Oakland’s bullpen is already under some stress after elite closer and free-agent acquisition Trevor Rosenthal was placed on the 10-day injured list on opening day with shoulder inflammation. The group got blown up against Houston, giving up 16 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings of work for an 8.64 bullpen ERA that is fourth-worst in MLB.
It’s early, but Melvin conceded Sunday his relief corps was already “beat up” following the drubbing by the Astros.
Puk was one of three candidates fighting for a rotation spot to begin the year, but Cole Irvin won the job and is expected to fill in until Mike Fiers (lumbar strain) rejoins Oakland in late April.
Puk, 26, is still ramping up his workload as he builds up strength from September shoulder surgery. He made three Cactus League starts and finished strong with four scoreless innings in his final tuneup, which marked his first game action since 2019. Puk’s fastball was sitting in the 93-94 mph range this spring and touched 96 mph in his latest outing, but is down from the 98 mph he brushed before surgery.
Melvin and the A’s say they’re not concerned about his dip in velocity yet, citing more concerns about his control this spring. Puk is eager to prove himself as more than a one-trick pony with a blazing fastball, too.
“I’ve always told myself I want to become a pitcher,” Puk said earlier this spring. “Previous years’ injuries, it’s pretty easy to become a thrower with 98 [mph] in the back pocket, you know, I could just do that anytime I want. But now I’m just working on becoming a pitcher.”
The A’s training room is pretty full for the first week of the season.
Starting catcher Sean Murphy is dinged up after getting hit in the wrist by a pitch that caused him to miss three games, Ramon Laureano has missed two-plus contests with a sore left wrist after sliding into first base and Piscotty needed a cortisone shot for wrist tendonitis near the end of spring training.
Oakland will have just a three-man bench for the time being, including backup catcher Aramis Garcia, utility man Tony Kemp and outfielder Ka’ai Tom. There’s a razor thin margin for injuries right now as the A’s get set to take on the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, beginning with Monday night’s contest.