MESA, Ariz. – Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk were promoted to the A’s in the middle of last season's pennant race and thrown immediately into the fire. These immensely talented young starting pitchers were sent to the bullpen for the stretch run, providing flashes of just how electric their stuff can be at the big league level.
Now we’ll see it over an extended stretch. The crown jewels of the A’s farm system are etched into a dynamic starting rotation also featuring Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, one that’s as talented as any in baseball.
Pitching coach Scott Emerson doesn’t want his two newcomers differentiated from the pack. Puk and Luzardo long have been prized prospects. After last year’s cameo, he already considers them proven commodities.
“These guys are for real,” Emerson said. “The prospects are guys who you want to see in the big leagues. These guys are here. You should take the prospect label off both of them.”
It was clear last year their stuff plays. They are capable of getting outs in this rarified air.
Both guys are confident in their ability to perform but know they haven’t made it yet. That’s done by dominating over a long haul.
“I still have to earn respect,” Luzardo said. “I still have to prove myself. The end of last year was awesome and I’m glad I had some success, but I know I can do more and do better. That’s the goal this year.”
Some questions, however, already have been answered by last year’s cameos.
“It was really beneficial to get acclimated to the major league atmosphere during a playoff race,” Puk said. “You feel the pressure and you learn that you can execute under those circumstances, and that gives you confidence. Because of that, I feel ready to roll this year.”
Both guys benefit from the A’s depth and talent base, fitting into the rotation without having to be staff saviors. They also can rely on each other. Puk and Luzardo became friends during their time in the minors. They have become close dealing with successes, tough rehabs and ill-timed injury setbacks. They’re even living together during spring training.
That will help them get through this shared experience, which likely will include some road bumps. So will their mental makeup.
“They’re both cool, calm and collected,” Emerson said. “Nothing’s going to phase them. They’ll take some lumps just like everybody else. But the faster they fight back, the faster they’ll get comfortable at this level and let talent shine through. I have no doubt Jesus and A.J. are going to be excellent pitchers in this league.”