You couldn’t take issue with the pitching line: 4 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. However, the question all of America has been asking for the past 18 hours is: What did the Eyeball Scout think of A.J. Puk’s start on Saturday?
While the box score saw pure dominance, I saw a mixed bag that was more good than bad. Remember that Texas did not put out its “A” lineup, stretching the interpretation of “three regulars in the lineup” (a spring training travel rule) to its extreme. So unfortunately there was no way to test how ready Puk is to handle big league hitters.
In general, I was a bit bearish on Puk’s first 2 innings and very impressed with his last two. Innings 1 and 2 featured breaking balls and changeups left up in the zone, sitting on a tee, and I thought A.J. got away with some mistakes and hard contact. However, all his pitches were working, and were better located, in innings 3 and 4.
I thought Puk’s fastball was outstanding throughout, despite the lowered velocity (92-94MPH). He threw it a lot to the glove side with excellent command, routinely tying up the right-handed batters. But he also located well to the arm side, forcing hitters to cover a lot of strike zone.
Also notable was how defensive some of the swings were on his fastball, perhaps a testament to it’s late movement and/or the variance of the 2-seam and 4-seam action.
I was surprised not to see a wipeout slider, as I had heard this was a key swing-and-miss pitch in Puk’s earlier appearances. Puk threw almost exclusively more of a curve, and it was a “roundhouse curve” with plenty of movement but not a whole lot of sharp break.
It seems to me that if he is throwing 92-94MPH, a swing-and-miss slider it’s going to be a huge part of any success Puk has in the big leagues, but I can’t evaluate quality of that pitch because I just didn’t see it.
While he left the changeup up in the zone early, as he settled into a groove Puk through a couple dandies towards the end of his 4-inning stint. When properly located, this is a quality pitch off of a fastball that gets on the hitter quicker than the radar gun suggests.
I was very impressed with Puk’s fastball command, and this is probably the most positive takeaway from Saturday’s start along with the 0 BB overall.
Command of the junk increased throughout the day, but sitting in the lower 90s with his fastball Puk is not going to have a lot of margin for error with the location of his breaking ball and changeup.
I liked what I saw a lot more than I didn’t, and yet I still firmly believe Puk needs more time to get to know the arsenal he has been given in 2021, and to build up arm strength, innings, and consistency not all just “on the job”.
Puk can be optioned to the alternate site and still be a huge part of the 2021 A’s, and I think this will best serve him and the team both. But just with the fastball command he showed Saturday, he is ahead of where I last saw him and that is a very good sign going forward.