OAKLAND — Up until the sixth inning on Wednesday afternoon, it looked like Daniel Mengden would be the third Oakland Athletics’ rookie in a row to baffle the Houston Astros.
After Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea had dominated the Astros on back-to-back nights, Mengden was rolling along before the visitors ambushed him in the sixth.
“At times our starting pitching has been the issue,” manager Bob Melvin said after the Astros completed the sweep, defeating the A’s 6-5 in the finale. “But certainly not this series.”
For a team in full-on evaluation mode, the rookies — especially Cotton and Manaea — showed they could more than hold their own against an Astros team fighting for wild-card survival.
Even with Mengden’s ugly sixth, the trio of starters — all acquired in high profile trades in the past 16 months — limited Houston to five earned runs on 11 hits while piling up 20 strikeouts in 17.2 innings of work.
“That’s a group that swings the bat pretty well,” Melvin said. “And I think overall we held them down pretty good, as far as the offensive end.”
Along with Cotton, Manaea and Raul Alcantara — who faces the Texas Rangers on Saturday — Mengden is one of four rookies in the six-man rotation.
“It’s awesome. It’s fun to see,” Mengden said. “We had a lot of fun in [Triple-A] Nashville together. Me and Raul pitched together [with High-A] Stockton [last year].”
At the plate, a couple of the new guys contributed with their bats. Brett Eibner connected on a RBI ground-rule double in the fourth and Bruce Maxwell added a run-scoring double in the sixth.
“Just seeing the success of all our guys — especially the young guys — is awesome to see,” Mengden said.
In the top of the sixth, it was A’s nemesis Evan Gattis who struck the big blow. Gattis punctuated the rally — which included a team cycle against Mengden — by hammering a curveball into the seats beyond the left field wall.
“I thought I made a pretty good pitch,” Mengden explained. “But he made a pretty good swing and it went out.”
The homer was No. 29 on the year for the designated hitter and his seventh against Oakland pitchers. In the eighth, he added another — this one off Zach Neal — that bounced off the batter’s eye in center field, traveling some 439 feet, according to MLB Statcast.
Mengden ended up allowing four runs on six hits in 5.2 innings of work, but his overall outing was better than his final line indicated.
The 23-year-old retired the first 10 Astros he faced before Yulieski Gurriel grounded a one-out single to left in the fourth. With seven strikeouts, Mengden now has 19 punchouts in his last three starts — a stretch of 17.2 innings.
“I just feel more comfortable every outing I have out there,” Mengden said. “I’m just gaining experience and getting that much better every time out.”