Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk are having a rough 2021 for the A’s

The A’s had to do it.

Monday afternoon, Oakland sent struggling southpaw Jesus Luzardo to Triple-A Las Vegas and called up right-handed reliever Domingo Acevedo. 

Luzardo entered the season as the A’s No. 2 starter and had a mercurial start to the season before everything changed on May 1. Supposedly, he broke his pinky while playing (or rage quitting?) a video game and hitting a table before his start.

After consulting with the trainers before the game, the A’s let Luzardo pitch and he gave up three earned runs (six total) in three innings against the Angels. Luzardo was placed on the Injured List soon after, while Mike Fiers went back to the IL with a sprained right elbow.

With the way James Kaprielian has pitched lately, it’s hard to see Luzardo getting another crack at the A’s rotation this year. 

That’s because Luzardo became the first Oakland A’s reliever to give up a homer in five straight games, with Saturday’s blast by Giovany Urshela in Yankee Stadium. A familiar sight — Luzardo leaving a 98-plus mph heater right down the middle and it’s served up for a dinger.

That same night, A.J. Puk struggled in his fifth straight appearance for the Aviators. The 27-year-old lefty gave up two earned runs on two hits and two walks over 1 2/3 innings. It actually lowered his ERA to 11.02, improved his batter’s average against (.366) but boosted his WHIP to 2.08. Those are all rough numbers for Puk, who is coming back from September shoulder surgery and had a chance to crack the opening day roster as No. 5 starter.

The two could be roommates again in Las Vegas as they try to re-establish themselves within the organization.

It appears the struggles are between the ears for Luzardo. Sure, the Urshela dinger was bad enough, but it was the subsequent two walks that were alarming for Luzardo. He was missing badly.

A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson made a memorable mound visit and respected veteran Elvis Andrus hung around to show some support as well.

Luzardo has been super forthright with the media and professional throughout this whole process and all indicators are he is a hard worker who will fight through this, but it is a massive disappointment for the lefty with so much potential. Ditto for Puk, whose inability to stay healthy has derailed his development for years.

Their path back to the rotation seems unclear at this time. Kaprielian has a 2.84 ERA in seven big league starts and looks like he’s here to stay. Cole Irvin appears to be a bona fide big leaguer, too, and Daulton Jefferies has only had one poor start for Las Vegas to begin the year while sporting a 20/3 K/BB ratio.

Moving Luzardo to Las Vegas will give him the opportunity to stretch back out as a starter and provide some insurance to the rotation. He has dropped from the No. 2 spot in the rotation to probably the No. 7 guy in a span of a couple months. Puk’s career keeps trending sideways, if not down.

The 2021 campaign could have been a coming out party for these close friends, but it’s been a rough one instead. There’s still plenty of time for them to come back to Oakland and make an impact, especially when rosters open up to 40 men in September. For now, these two are probably the two biggest disappointments for the organization so far this season.

What to expect from Acevedo

Domingo Acevedo has never pitched in MLB but sported some great numbers with Las Vegas this season, his first with the A’s organization.

Acevedo, 27, has a 2.76 ERA, 0.80 WHIP with 27 strikeouts and three walks in 16 1/3 innings. Those are some dominant numbers, especially the K/BB ratio. Acevedo is 6-foot-7 with a plus fastball along with a slider and changeup.

He will probably be used in low leverage situations to start, but don’t be surprised if he gets some high-leverage looks on days when the bullpen is short (i.e. Jake Diekman/Lou Trivino/Yusmeiro Petit are unavailable). Perhaps Acevedo will fill a similar role to Burch Smith, who has also struggled with a 5.75 ERA this year.