AJ Puk

A.J. Puk to start playing catch after strain, A's GM David Forst says

A.J. Puk to start playing catch after strain, A's GM David Forst says

A.J. Puk will start the season on the injured list after sustaining a shoulder strain last week. 

A’s general manager David Forst offered an update on Puk during media availability, saying he believes the left-handed pitcher will begin playing catch on Friday, and when the club heads out on the road, Puk will go to the alternate training site in San Jose to continue his work.

“I don’t have the full protocol from Dr. ElAttrache in front of me, but I believe he will start playing catch today,” Forst told reporters Friday. "Look, that’s a rough injury for him and for us to deal with, but all in all, I think we came out of summer spring training pretty healthy and pretty ready to go."

The A's are scheduled to play in Seattle next Friday and more than likely head there following their afternoon game against the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. 

A’s manager Bob Melvin also said on Tuesday it would “be a little while before we see [Puk],” without giving an official estimate as to when exactly that might be. 

The setback of Puk was an additional wrench thrown in what looked like to be a strong starting rotation. Jesús Luzardo tested positive for coronavirus two weeks ago, and despite not feeling sick or believing he didn’t come into contact with anyone with COVID-19, he had to isolate himself for a period of time and tested negative twice at least 24 hours apart.

Luzardo is back now, and Forst hopes he’s ready to eventually join that starting rotation. The delay has the 22-year-old beginning the season coming out of the bullpen.

[RELATED: Why A's believe they'll thrive in shortened MLB season]

That’s a job Luzardo has more than proved he’s successful at, pitching in six games of relief in 2019 with a 1.50 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 12 innings which was good enough for a 0.667 WHIP.

The A's also sought to have Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden as part of that starting squad heading into Opening Day. 

Five bold predictions for 2020 A’s season, including World Series title

Five bold predictions for 2020 A’s season, including World Series title

The A's expect to do great things this season. The experts agree. The East Bay club has an awesome collection of individual talent working in the field, the batter’s box and on the mound.

There’s little one could forecast about that A’s in 2020 that would seem unrealistic, from individual honors to championships. That’s why the NBC Sports Bay Area A’s coverage team went big with their bold predictions for the 2020 season. No accolade is unreachable for this group, with long ago earmarked 2020 as a time to shoot for the stars.

Let’s get to it. Jessica Kleinschmidt and Scott Bair – and yeah, I just referred to myself in the third person – set a high bar for what the A’s could accomplish, with former A’s pitcher and current color commentator Dallas Braden acting as judge and jury deciding whether their prediction is realistic.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

Let’s find out what’s possible in this 60-game MLB season, now with an expanded playoff field. Here we go.

Prediction No. 1: Matt Olson will hit 25-30 home runs in 60 games

Rationale: Look, saying Matt Olson will hit 25 ... maybe 30 bombs may mean I'm a little crazy, but it wasn't called predictions, these were bold predictions, and he can do it.

Olson proved before that he has plenty of power in a short amount of games and did so coming off of a hamate bone injury -- so yes, perhaps I'm a little excited, but if anyone is capable of such production, it's him. -- JK

Judge Braden: “If there’s anybody on that team who can get hot and carry them with power, Matt Olson is a great place to start. I just don’t know if, time permitting, if guys are going to get that hot for that length of time because that would be the entire season as we know it. Is Matt Olson a candidate to lead the league in homers? I absolutely believe so. But 30 or so might be slightly aggressive.”

Prediction No. 2: Jesus Luzardo will win AL ROY despite coronavirus setback

Rationale: The 22-year-old phenom won’t even start in the rotation this season after spending two weeks in quarantine following a positive coronavirus test, but I still see a great season ahead. He was excellent out of the bullpen last year after a September call-up, and he’ll be a fireman until he’s stretched out enough to join the rotation. Then he’ll be able to control games from the outset and notch important wins that carry significant weight in a shortened season. He has truly dynamic stuff and will make the greatest impact of any rookie in the American League. Yeah. He’s that good. -- SB

Judge Braden: “I think that’s a great selection because of the role shifting that you talked about. Typically, Rookie of the Year is reserved for guys producing offensively at a high rate. There’s an opportunity for Luzardo to make an instant impact out of the bullpen and then eventually take over a rotation spot. When you assess his performance as a whole at the end of the year and you realize the impact he has in the bullpen and then a starting role every five days, that’s a big impact in a small amount of time. That could shine through should Luzardo be able to produce.”

Prediction No. 3: Frankie Montas will win the AL Cy Young Award

Rationale: Frankie Montas proved that, despite his 80-game PED suspension, he was able to come back in that Sept.-2019 Angels game and shove. He had a sub-three ERA in 2019 and was strong during the first spring training outing but didn’t stop there. He worked ridiculously hard during the shutdown -- he hit triple digits during the hiatus -- and knows this is his chance to shine. He’ll star with great stuff and an excellent defense behind him. – JK

Judge Braden: “Frankie Montas is a man on a mission. Whether it was by is own undoing or not, Frankie is motivated by the suspension. We saw that at the last part of last year. Now this year, all that is in the past and he’s ready to tackle Opening Day and every start after that. This man is motivated right. When you think about the development of the split-finger fastball and his ability to dial it up to 100-plus – his first pitch of camp was 98! – what’s not to like about this guy? His ability to get deeper into ballgames will be key. If he can pitch well through seven, eight or nine innings, I like his chances.”

Prediction No. 4: Khris Davis hits .247 and gets back to mashing after down year

Rationale: Claiming Davis will hit .247 for the fifth time in six seasons isn’t that bold. Though he did snap a five-year run by hitting .220 in a down year relative to his own bar. Davis hit .220 and had just 23 home runs while dealing with a hip injury that was worse than he let on during the year. He’s back healthy again and ready to get cranking again over 60 games. He hit 26 home runs over that span late in 2018, so he can do some real damage in a compacted run. -- SB

Judge Braden: “I want Khris Davis to be mentally in tune. That’s where I think he is right now. He has put the injury behind him. When a guy of his caliber gets hurt, you really don’t know how injured he is and how much he’s battled through it. He played through it because he knows how much he means to the lineup. With a fresh start, Khris Davis is poised for a great start and is in great position, with some emerging stars in the lineup, to have some of the pressure taken off of him. When you’re not focusing on K.D. that dude is an absolute killer.”

[RELATED: Five questions that will define A's 2020 World Series chances]

Prediction No. 5: The A’s will win the World Series

Rationale: The A’s had some setbacks in training camp with and A.J. Puk, but what about this? The team’s strong pitching will be key, even with Luzardo starting the season off coming out of the bullpen in a role he proved he was great at last season. Sean Manaea and Montas will give the A’s a full season, and Chris Bassitt has proved dominant no matter where you put him.

No ball will get through the infield with Matt Chapman and Olson at the corners and Marcus Semien is coming off of a season where he was voted third in AL MVP voting. Chad Pinder looks to get the start at second base after hitting well during camp and we have yet to see Ramon Laureano or Mark Canha at their peak.

The bats looked amazing and productive in camp, and even if Davis has a not-so-hot season at the plate, he said he knows his lack of productivity will not mean the team will be out of the race.

Forget the historically slow start past Oakland has had in the past. It's a different season, a unique season and the team will embrace it beautifully. -- JK

Judge Braden: "Why can they not? You tell me why they can’t? What was in their way with the Houston Astros and the peripheral noise surrounding them, the A’s are tired of it. I was having conversations with guys around the cage two years ago who were saying ‘Why not us?’ …The key in this abbreviated season is the mindset. They have bought into what the end game is as a collective unit. Everyone who could contribute to this season, as a collective unit, feels like they can be the last group standing when it’s all said and done.”

Chris Bassitt's exhibition work a good sign for A's patchwork rotation

Chris Bassitt's exhibition work a good sign for A's patchwork rotation

The A’s rotation has gone through some upheaval over the last week. A starting five that looked as talented and deep as any in baseball lost two young flamethrowers in a flash: A.J. Puk on the injured list with shoulder inflammation and Jesus Luzardo relegated to relief work after two weeks in quarantine following a positive coronavirus test.

Anxious types might also fret over Sean Manaea failing to crack 90 mph in Monday’s exhibition or Mike Fiers uncharacteristic lack of command in Tuesday’s preseason finale.

While there’s no point in stressing over two established veterans who will show up when the lights come on, fans on A’s Twitter did so anyway.

Chris Bassitt, however, might have calmed some nerves.

The right-hander was in complete command during his four innings against the San Francisco Giants, allowing a run on two hits with five strikeouts.

We all know the results don’t matter in these games, but the work certainly does. Bassitt was in complete control of his pitch arsenal, locked in and clearly ready to start the regular season. His work will begin Monday against the L.A. Angels with a turn in the rotation assumed only after Luzardo wasn’t ready for the assignment.

Bassitt essentially is a luxury starter, providing established depth most teams would love to own. He was supposed to be a bullpen guy last year as well, but an injury plague pushed him into the rotation. He was awesome in that role, going 10-5 with a 3.81 ERA over 144 innings.

He'll be ready to start as long as needed, taking a series of solid performances into the regular season. Tuesday’s late-inning effort is the only one you saw, but he has been equally effective in recent intrasquad games.

“He was throwing everything well,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He had good command of his fastball. He was effective with the big, slow curveball. We really didn’t even get to his pitch count, which means he’s efficient and commanding the baseball with all of his pitches.”

These are all positives for a player who didn’t get as much work in as others during baseball’s shutdown period. He didn’t have a baseball facility or fellow players to work with near his home in Ohio, so he mostly worked on his own and felt a bit behind some others who were throwing bullpens and live batting practice throughout the months-long down period.

[RELATED: Projecting A's 30-man roster as MLB Opening Day nears]

That’s why his recent performances, with pitch counts in the 50s, have been encouraging.

“They are a good sign because he didn’t throw as much as the other guys before camp,” Melvin said. “His last two times out, he has been terrific. I know he feels good about that going into the season.”