Athletics

Where Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk rank among left-handed pitching prospects

Where Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk rank among left-handed pitching prospects

The A's have three no-hitters in their rotation between Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea. They have one of the most intriguing pitchers in baseball with Frankie Montas. And yet, none of those three bring as much excitement and reason for optimism as two young lefties. 

Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are two of the best young lefties in the game. MLB Pipeline agrees. 

Both Luzardo and Puk were highlighted Wednesday when MLB Pipeline released its list of the 10 best left-handed pitching prospects in the game. Luzardo leads the way for Oakland and is ranked behind only San Diego Padres prospect MacKenzie Gore as the best southpaw prospect. 

Luzardo, 22, jumped one spot from his previous ranking. He made his major league debut last season in September and immediately looked like a future star. The first Peruvian-born big leaguer struck out the first batter he faced in the majors, Houston Astros infielder Aledmys Diaz. 

Luzardo suffered a few setbacks last season, including a Grade 2 lat strain and a shoulder injury. He finished the season with a 1.50 ERA in six appearances out of the bullpen and struck out 16 batters in 12 innings. 

The A's expect Luzardo to play a large role in their rotation next season, however, they likely will limit his innings and keep a keen eye on his health.

Puk dropped two spots in MLB Pipeline's rankings, from No. 5 to No. 7. He also is expected to be a big factor among A's starters this year. 

The 6-foot-7, former No. 6 pick in the 2016 draft, had Tommy John surgery in April 2018 and will need to prove he's built to be a starter. Puk made his big league debut in late August and showed he has plenty of strikeout stuff, though he did struggle with his control at times. 

[RELATED: MLB execs: A's prospects Luzardo, Murphy will thrive in '20]

The former Florida Gator went 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 11 1/3 innings last year. Puk can hit triple digits and has an absolutely nasty slider. 

Luzardo and Puk should be a nightmare for opposing AL West teams for years to come. That's the dream scenario for the A's and their fans alike.

Relive three iconic A's victories, performances against rival Astros

Relive three iconic A's victories, performances against rival Astros

Programming note: NBC Sports California will air three classic A’s-Astros games beginning Saturday at 3 p.m. PT.

Since joining the AL West after switching leagues in 2013, the Houston Astros quickly have morphed into one of the A’s most hated rivals.

Those seven seasons have produced plenty of classic matchups, as the clubs finished the season as the division’s top two teams in four of the seven years.

However, the coronavirus outbreak forcing an indefinite suspension upon MLB has robbed teams of getting a chance at revenge on Houston, after the organization was implicated in a nefarious sign-stealing scheme this offseason.

Nevertheless, there's still a way to get your fix, as fans can tune in to NBC Sports California on Saturday afternoon to relive three memorable A’s victories over the Astros.

Lowrie caps comeback -- Sept. 8, 2017

The A’s had their backs against the wall entering the bottom of the seventh inning, trailing Houston 7-3 on a cloudy fall evening in Oakland.

Then Marcus Semien walked to the plate. It took just one swing for the game to be tied at seven as the Bay Area native connected on his third career grand slam. After former A’s outfielder Josh Reddick gave Houston back the lead in the top half, the A’s brought out the power once again. 

Boog Powell led off the bottom half by tying the game with a solo home run, then a few batters later Jed Lowrie brought Semien home to deliver a walk-off win.

The A’s clearly fed off the momentum of that victory, as Oakland went on to sweep the four-game set.

Olson beats Astros -- Aug. 17, 2018

Neck-and-neck in the divisional race, these two adversaries faced off once again at the Oakland Coliseum just under a year later. 

In his 29th career MLB appearance, outfielder Nick Martini was the night’s first hero, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth with an RBI double to bring home Ramon Laureano, who initially was called out before a replay review reversed the ruling.

Slugger Matt Olson came up in the 10th, and lifted a towering shot just over the right-field fence, bringing the A’s to within one game of the AL West lead.

[RELATED: Why Olson's walk-off homer vs. Brewers was so impressive]

A’s offense explodes -- Sept. 10, 2019

A day after the A’s were hammered 15-0 at Minute Maid Park, the A’s returned the favor in a big way with a 21-7 win.

Astros starter Wade Miley lasted just a third of an inning before being relieved, having allowed six runs, all of which came on RBI singles.

Oakland ended up with six total home runs, including two apiece from Olson and young catcher Sean Murphy. It also was the first time in the expansive history of the A’s that the team scored 20 or more runs, had 25 or more hits, and hit at least six home runs in the same contest.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy what likely would have become America’s new greatest pastime this summer: Watching your team beat the Astros.

Chad Pinder, A's players will feel 'residual effects' when MLB returns

Chad Pinder, A's players will feel 'residual effects' when MLB returns

A’s utility man Chad Pinder is home in Charlotte, North Carolina getting plenty of things done. Watching Netflix, painting nursery furniture, and getting in decent workouts in his garage.

Productive, but not reassuring.

“This is kind of unprecedented in our lifetime, basically to have the nation on hold right now,” Pinder told NBC  Sports Bay Area this week. “It is a very scary time, especially in some the areas that are affected bad right now.”

It was only a few weeks ago Pinder and his Oakland teammates were in Mesa, Arizona getting ready for a highly anticipated 2020 MLB season. 

They, like most of the country, didn’t fully interpret the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at first.

“I don’t know if we initially realized what was going on,” Pinder said. “Thought maybe this would be a two-week break, month maximum. The more information you get, the more you see going around, you realize this is a long-term thing.”

Pinder, a highly-regarded clubhouse leader, now keeps in touch with teammates mostly through text messages.

“We have a group thread, everybody’s talking,” Pinder said.

Their main conversations are about MLB developments, and to keep each other in the loop of when baseball could resume. Players don’t have any more assurances or insights than the average fan does these days. But there are some certainties. 

“Even when we resume stuff, there will be residual effects of what’s been going on,” Pinder said.

[RELATED: Stewart better after coronavirus scare]

That aforementioned nursery project is indeed preparation for Chad and his wife Taylor’s first child, due in the late summer months. He is certainly seeing different perspectives of events right now, as they relate to the future.

“The way we handle this, the way we come out of this,” Pinder said. “We’ll look back on the rest of our lives and remember this time.”