OAKLAND — The last time Oakland Athletics pitcher Daniel Mengden faced off against the Houston Astros’ Lance McCullers — on April 28 in Houston — Mengden lasted only 2.1 innings while allowing four earned runs on six hits. Meanwhile, McCullers flirted with a no-hitter, and the Astros won, 11-0.
Tuesday, the result was the same, even if the score was a bit tighter, with the Astros beating the A’s, 6-3. Mengden allowed six earned runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, throwing and 79 pitches.
The Astros have now taken six of the seven games the two teams have played this season, adding to Oakland’s continued struggles beating divisional rivals. This season, the A’s are 10-22 against the American League West.
“We know how good our division is,” Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman said. “Our division is really good. There’s no easy night. … Every game’s been a battle, and I think that we’ve been in every game. We just got to find a way to get that late little push to get on top.”
The A’s took the lead in the first inning, when Dustin Fowler and Marcus Semien both singled, and Fowler, who moved to third on a double play, scored on a wild pitch.
Mengden has struggled this season the first time through the lineup, and those struggles surfaced again on Tuesday. The Houston native and Texas A&M alum made it through the top of the first inning with just seven pitches, but it took him 28 to get through the second, as he gave up four runs.
“The command really is the difference between what we saw in May and what we’re seeing right now,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s missing in the middle of the plate when he’s missing, and he’s not getting ahead in the fashion he was earlier. He’ll get back to it, just going through a little bit of a rough patch.”
The Astros were aggressive early in the count, best exemplified by Carlos Correa’s first-pitch solo home run in the second, which tied the game at one apiece. After Mengden allowed a double and a walk, Evan Gattis went yard to give the Astros the 4-1 lead.
“I’m a pretty heavy-fastball [pitcher], so a lot of times a lot of guys want to swing early,” he said. “That’s just me putting pitches in the right spot instead of the mistakes I’ve been making. They’re just running in to them.”
Mengden was better the second time through the lineup, and the A’s had narrowed the gap to 4-2 heading into the fifth, but then Gattis doubled to plate Correa and Josh Reddick, chasing Mengden.
The A’s bullpen did its job, giving up no runs. Danny Coulombe, who took over for Mengden in the fifth, got the groundout the team needed to escape the inning. Chris Hatcher pitched two innings, allowing two hits and no runs. Santiago Casilla entered in the eighth and, in 10 pitches, got out of the inning with a strikeout and no hits. In the ninth, Liam Hendriks gave up two hits but no runs.
“They’ve been doing a nice job,” Melvin said of his bullpen. We’ve been spreading it around here, at least tonight. … And you need everybody in your bullpen over the course of the season. So they’ve been pitching well.”
Chapman was Oakland’s only real offensive bright spot, hitting three doubles in as many at-bats — tying an Oakland single-game record. He scored the A’s second run when some smart base running produced a double out of what could have just been a long single, then followed with a smart, quick read that let him move to third on a ground ball, so he could score on a sacrifice fly.
Chapman has been seeing the ball well lately. He’s 14-for-34 this month and 10-for-16 in the past five games. He said he’s just being more direct to the baseball and making sure there’s no wasted movement. He was hit by a pitch in his fourth at-bat, but X-rays came back negative, and he expects to play on Wednesday.
“His BPs are great, he’s using the whole field, he’s seeing the ball early,” Melvin said. “Earlier in the season, he was similar to this, but, right now, I think he’s seeing the ball as well as he has all year. And you’re seeing that in the last few games.”
Once McCullers left, the A’s made some noise against righty reliever Collin McHugh, loading the bases in the bottom of the eighth. Jed Lowrie was hit by a pitch and Davis grounded into a would-be double play, but both men were safe after an error by Correa (his first of the season, making him the last MLB shortstop to make an error). Chapman was then hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Mark Canha singled to left to make the game 6-3. Brad Peacock came on and struck out Stephen Piscotty to end the inning, and the A’s last real chance.