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Mar 29, 2024 3:12 am

Marlins’ A.J. Puk faces Pirates in first career start

Marlins, Puk

After 142 relief appearances, Miami Marlins left-hander A.J. Puk is set to make his first career start.

Puk, who has a 3.72 career ERA, will take the mound Friday night when the Marlins play host to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates beat the Marlins 6-5 in 12 innings on Thursday during the season opener for both clubs.

Puk wasn’t always a reliever. He was a starter at the University of Florida, and he was so good at it that the Oakland A’s made him the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft.

“I’m getting used to (starting) again,” Puk said this spring, according to the Miami Herald. “It’s almost like riding a bike again. In my head, I never really put myself away as just a bullpen guy even after all the years I was in the ‘pen. I’ve had a pretty good routine and the other starters are helping me out.”

Armed primarily with a fastball and sweeper, Puk is 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA in four career appearances against the Pirates (all last year), totaling 4 1/3 innings.

Puk was supposed to be back in the bullpen for his fifth season in the majors. However, the Marlins have been hit incredibly hard by injuries to members of the rotation, with Sandy Alcantara, Eury Perez, Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett all on the injured list.

The Marlins appear to be in good shape at the closer position with Tanner Scott coming off a season in which he posted a 2.31 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 78 innings.

The rest of the bullpen has questions. David Robertson signed with the Texas Rangers. Steven Okert was traded to the Minnesota Twins. JT Chargois is on the injured list. Huascar Brazoban is having visa issues, and Puk is in the rotation.

Still, Marlins Opening Day starter Jesus Luzardo is not worried, even after the bullpen blew an eighth-inning lead on Thursday en route to the extra-inning loss.

“You can’t put too much thought into one game,” Luzardo said. “Everyone wants to win, but it’s a long season.”

The Pirates, meanwhile, have to be thrilled with their comeback from a three-run deficit after the sixth inning. Pittsburgh got 6 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball from its bullpen, and the Pirates hit three homers: Bryan Reynolds’ two-run blast in the third, Edward Olivares’ pinch-hit solo shot in the seventh and Oneil Cruz’s score-tying solo dinger in the eighth.

Still, the Pirates didn’t take their first lead until Jared Triolo hit an RBI single in the top of the 12th.

“The first win is the hardest,” Triolo said with a smile.

Pittsburgh will try to make it two straight when it sends lefty Martin Perez to the mound on Friday.

Perez has a 4.44 ERA in 288 career games (243 starts), and he had a 4.45 ERA in 35 games (20 starts) last season for the Rangers.

Perez will look for support from teammates such as Reynolds, Gold Glove third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and 6-foot-7 shortstop Cruz.

Reynolds hit 24 homers last season, and Hayes added 15 homers. Cruz crushed 17 homers as a rookie in 2022, but he sustained a broken left leg in April 2023 and missed the rest of the season.

“I have to tell you one thing — there were a lot of tough moments last year, not being able to play,” Cruz said in Spanish. “But now that I’m back, I’m happy.”

–Field Level Media

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