Puk delivers in final bid for rotation

Aramis Garcia earning backup catcher duties leads roster moves

March 28th, 2021

knew the heat was on.

He knew after watching fellow A’s starting rotation contender Cole Irvin toss a scoreless gem with 10 strikeouts the previous night that he needed to turn around his slow start to spring with a strong outing on Saturday. Puk needed to show the A’s what he’s made of.

He did.

Making his second Cactus League start (third appearance), Puk saved his best for last in one final bid to fill the rotation slot that has opened up with Mike Fiers heading to the injured list. The southpaw made quick work of the Rangers in a 5-1 victory at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz., allowing just one hit with three strikeouts and no walks in four scoreless innings.

“I felt great the entire time,” Puk said. “Everything felt crisp and clean today. My mechanics were syncing up well. I was just happy.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin doesn’t normally provide too much detail as to what he’s looking to see out of a pitcher on a given day, especially during Spring Training. But he made it clear before Saturday’s game he was interested to see how Puk would respond with the pressure of having to follow Irvin’s dazzling performance.

“He has the ability,” Melvin said of Puk. “Hopefully, it all comes together for him today.”

It did.

Struggling with command his last time out, Puk came out Saturday filling up the zone with strikes from the first inning. Poised on the mound, the A’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, demonstrated some of the tools that have hyped him up as he ascended through the organizational farm system.

Throwing more two-seamers than he normally does, Puk needed just 41 pitches to complete his four innings. All three of his strikeouts were swinging, proving that he can still miss bats even with his fastball velocity decreased to around 93-94 mph as he works his way back from shoulder surgery.

“Even if my velocity doesn’t come back to having 98 mph in my back pocket, I’m still confident with the stuff I have,” Puk said. “That’s why I’m working on this two-seamer. I’ve always told myself I want to become a pitcher. Previous to these injuries, it was pretty easy to become a thrower with 98 any time I want. Now I’m working on becoming a pitcher.”

As it stands, among the three options to fill Fiers’ spot in the rotation, Puk’s spring numbers are inferior to Irvin and Daulton Jefferies, who will pitch in Sunday’s game. Also working against Puk is his inactivity over the past couple of years -- he’s thrown just 36 2/3 innings since 2019 and is not yet stretched out to go as deep into games as the other two candidates. But Puk accomplished his goal for his final spring outing. He attacked hitters the way he knows he can. All he can do now is let the chips fall where they may.

“I’m always confident in myself. Each time I’ve taken the rubber, I gain more confidence and feel better,” Puk said. “Whatever the team decides. I know Jefferies and Irvin have both done their thing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens coming up.”

Garcia wins backup catcher job
Prior to Saturday’s game, the A’s reassigned six non-roster invitees to Minor League camp: Left-hander Reymin Guduan, right-hander Deolis Guerra, catchers Francisco Peña and Carlos Pérez, infielder Pete Kozma and outfielder Cody Thomas.

The reassignment of Pérez is most notable. The veteran backstop was in competition with over the past week for a spot on the Opening Day roster as the backup catcher to Sean Murphy. With Pérez now out of the race, Melvin confirmed that Garcia, who was acquired along with Elvis Andrus in a trade with the Rangers last month and is hitting .375 in 12 games this spring, will begin the regular season in Oakland.

“We talk a lot about if Spring Training numbers count. In his case, they certainly do,” Melvin said of Garcia. “Not only has he swung the bat well, but his catching ability is tremendous. Whether it’s framing or calling a game, he did a fantastic job with Cole Irvin last night. His last couple of outings really resonated. He deserves to make the team."

Up next
The A’s travel to Scottsdale, Ariz., for a 1:05 p.m. PT game against the Giants in a Cactus League edition of the Battle of the Bay. Right-hander Jefferies, who has made a strong case for the A’s final rotation spot with a 1.38 ERA in five Cactus League outings, takes the mound for Oakland. Right-hander Johnny Cueto will start for San Francisco.