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Lake Monsters' Puk extends sizzling stretch

A's No. 2 prospect pitches career-high five innings, gives up two hits
August 20, 2016

With a developing third pitch and peace of mind, A.J. Puk is continuing to show off his considerable potential.

The A's second-ranked prospect struck out five and allowed two hits over a career-high five scoreless innings on Saturday before Class A Short Season Vermont fell to Aberdeen, 3-1, at Leidos Field.

Puk gave up a two-out single to Ryan McKenna in the first inning, then held the IronBirds hitless until Mike Odenwaelder smashed a double to left field with one out in the fifth. The left-hander allowed only three baserunners and didn't walk a batter for the fourth time in eight starts as a pro.

"I felt really good out there today," Puk said. "Probably the first few innings I just mainly used my fastball and a couple changeups, and they were just jumping on the first-pitch fastballs. The second time through the lineup, I started mixing all my pitches to keep them off-balance and I was able to keep getting them out."

MLB.com's No. 74 overall prospect completed Saturday's start in 63 pitches, throwing 50 for strikes. While his pitch count continues to be limited, the 21-year-old has begun to improve his numbers. After going 0-1 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in his first four pro starts, Puk has posted a 1.08 ERA in four August starts with 24 strikeouts and a 0.54 WHIP that is tied for fourth in the Minor Leagues this month.

Puk said he feels like he's regained his rhythm after taking a month off at the end of his season at the University of Florida, while an increase in his use of the changeup has allowed the sixth overall pick in this year's Draft to add more variety to his repertoire.

"My changeup has been my best pitch up here so far, and that's been really helpful," Puk said. "In college, our coach called the pitches and it was mainly fastball, slider. … I've always had a good changeup, but I had to get it going again because I didn't use it much."

In addition, the Iowa native has flashed solid command, even though it was his lowest-rated tool by MLBPipeline with a 45 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Puk's walk numbers have been even better than in his final season in the Southeastern Conference: in 25 innings with the Lake Monsters, he's walked 2.2 batters per nine innings compared to 4.0 in his final year at Florida.

Puk said he's simply felt more at ease since making the transition to the pro game and hasn't allowed himself to be easily rattled.

"[In college], I would get 2-0 on a batter, then I'll hear shouts from the dugout like, 'Get ahead' and stuff like that," he said. "As a player, I didn't really like that. I'm not mocking the University of Florida, it's a great program. They have a great reputation. But as a player, I just never liked that. It just got in my head more than it should have.

"In pro ball, I can go 2-0 and I know that I can come back and get the guy out. I've definitely noticed it's more relaxed, and I think that's better for me as a player, to relax and go out and do my thing."

Puk exited with a 1-0 lead, but Xavier Altamirano (3-3) took the loss after surrendering three runs on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in three innings. 

IronBirds reliever Tyler Erwin (1-0) walked one and struck out two over 2 2/3 one-hit frames for the win, while James Teague fanned one in a perfect ninth to pick up his first save.

Austin Hays doubled twice and plated all three runs for Aberdeen.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21.