MARYVALE, Arizona — A.J. Puk is doing his best to make life extremely difficult for the A’s front office.
Continuing to look like the best pitcher on the roster this spring, Puk dominated again by turning in three scoreless innings, allowing three hits with two strikeouts and two walks in a 2-0 win over the Brewers.
At the point in spring where starting pitchers get their own day to start, Puk has earned one of those days for himself despite as of now not being a part of the expected starting rotation that will begin the season.
“He’s been very impressive. Based on his performance, he has his own day,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s been running with it.”
The A’s were looking to get four innings out of Puk, but after getting to 59 of his 60-pitch limit, Melvin decided to go with the bullpen after Puk’s completion of the third.
Puk, 22, struck out 184 batters in 125 innings in the minor leagues last season, but while his fastball is still humming around 95-97 this spring, Puk has been pitching more to contact with only six strikeouts in eight innings. It’s a strategy that seems to be working for Puk, who has yet to allow a single earned run so far.
“I felt I threw my changeup really well today,” Puk said. “I didn’t do a very good job with two outs. My pitches started to stack on top of each other and I threw a lot of extra pitches trying to get that third out. But overall, pretty good.”
Puk’s been so good, a second inning situation in which he had runners on second and third with two outs was really the most adversity Puk has had to deal with in the Cactus League this year.
When asked if his goal is to land a spot on the Opening Day roster, his answer was about what you would expect a young pitcher to give.
“I think that’s anybody’s goal that is here,” Puk said. “I’m not in control of it. I just go out there and try to pitch to the best of my abilities.”
Melvin did not give an answer either way when asked if Puk has a legit shot to make the rotation out of spring training, but he did point to what he feels is a new age of baseball where top prospects aren’t brought along as slowly as they used to be.
As long as Puk keeps performing well, he’ll continue to get starts through the end of spring. The A’s have continued to say they want to avoid rushing him up to the big leagues. More importantly, they probably are looking to avoid Super Two status, which would give them an extra year of control over Puk if they wait to call him up around mid-June. But if A’s starting pitchers, which have combined for a league-worst team ERA of 9.00 through 14 games this spring, don’t start to pick it up, a decision on where Puk ends up may be more difficult than originally expected come the end of March.
“He has done nothing to this point to suggest he doesn’t belong,” Melvin said. “If you’re a talented young guy, you have a chance to move up quickly. I would put nothing past him.”