OAKLAND — In five career starts against the Houston Astros — the most he’s made against any Major League club — Oakland Athletics pitcher Daniel Mengden was 0-3 with a 7.23 ERA coming into Wednesday.
He’s had his fair share of solid outings against the team that originally drafted him, but thanks to a pair of big “snowball” innings — one in 2016, after he took a line drive off the chest, and one earlier this year in Houston — his record was a bit messy against his hometown team.
Mengden — drafted by the Astros out of nearby Texas A&M in 2014 — didn’t have one of those big innings on Wednesday, but the two home runs he gave up with two outs in the top of the seventh were more than enough for the reigning world champions, who swept their way out of Oakland with a 4-1 win to cap a three game series.
“In a game like that, with very little room for error, one or two swings can beat you, and that’s what happened,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He was cruising along nicely, though, against a really good lineup.”
Mengden mainly used his slider to keep the Astros (24-15) from putting together multi-hit innings on Wednesday, throwing it 26 times out of his 93 pitches, getting three swings and misses and two called strikes. He also mixed in a changeup to get weak contact, and scattered four hits over his first six innings of work.
“Today I was throwing the fastball really well, establishing that early,” Mengden said. “I got it for strike one, and was able to go from there.”
Two weeks ago in Houston, Mengden gave up four earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings against the Astros, as he fell behind nine of the 15 hitters he faced, and allowed first-pitch hits to two more.
“Once they get rolling, it’s kind of hard to shut them down,” Mengden said earlier this week. “They’re a big fastball-hitting team, and last time, I put myself in a spot to throw a lot of fastballs.”
On Wednesday, Mengden’s fastball command on Wednesday was much better, as he used it to steal first-pitch strikes five times in the first four innings (eight overall), later turning to the slider, curve and changeup early in counts.
“Here, I got strike one and stayed aggressive, and stayed the aggressor,” Mengden said. “In Houston, I fell behind and just got in trouble.”
The 25-year old righty got first-pitch strikes on 14 of the 26 batters he faced, along with four first-pitch outs. Two mistakes, though — a two-out, 2-2, 94 mph fastball to former A’s farmhand Max Stassi, and an 0-2, 93-mph fastball to Derek Fisher — ruined his afternoon.
“Everything was going really well, and even the pitches they hit out, I thought were decent,” Mengden said. “It’s a pitch we wanted, maybe not the exact location we wanted on one of them, but that’s just baseball.”
After Mengden exited, Yusmeiro Petit gave up two more runs on three hits in his 1 1/3 innings of work.
….. Stassi finished the series 4-for-9 with three runs and three RBIs against his former club. Gerrit Cole earned the win, going six innings, allowing four hits and one earned run — on an RBI double by Jed Lowrie in the sixth — and striking out nine.
….. The A’s have now scored just five runs over the last three games against the team with the best ERA in the league. That’s not much of a shock, but the fact that Oakland has scored just 22 total runs in nine games against the Astros, Orioles (last in the MLB in ERA) and Mariners (23rd in ERA) should be a concern.
“Their guy today, he’s throwing 98, up in the zone, getting it called all day,” Melvin said. “It’s tough to chase him up there, and when he’s getting strikes up there, it’s doubly tough. Four-pitch guy, throws 98 mph. They’ve got a pretty good rotation.
….. In the bottom of the seventh, the A’s (18-19) debuted their center fielder of the future, as Dustin Fowler pinch hit for Mark Canha, lining out softly to second. He played the rest of the game in center field. He will in all likelihood start for the A’s in center field when they start a three-game set with the New York Yankees in the Bronx on Friday against the player he was traded for — Sonny Gray.
“It’s just a perfect story,” Fowler said. “The guy I got traded for, getting to face him, it’ll be fun. It’ll be nice to play in New York and play in front of that crowd, playing in front of a bunch of guys I know. It’ll be exciting. I’m ready to get there.”
….. Lowrie’s sixth-inning double to drive in Matt Joyce was the 11th time this season that he’s given the A’s the lead. He entered the day tied for the American Lead in go-ahead RBIs this year.