Before this season, Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden had made a combined zero starts pitching above Double A. Over the past three days at the Coliseum, they were the starters for the rebuilding A’s in a series against the Houston Astros.
The rookies largely held their own. Cotton allowed one run in six innings in the opener. Manaea threw six shutout innings Tuesday. Mengden held the Astros scoreless for four innings Wednesday before faltering, allowing four runs over the next two innings.
If the A’s are optimistic about the future, the performance of three inexperienced starters this week illustrated one reason. The series, though, also reinforced the meaning of potential, as the A’s were swept by Houston with a 6-5 loss Wednesday.
Following a high-scoring trip in which they went 6-1, A’s totaled eight runs against the Astros and blew late leads in the first two games after Cotton and Manaea had exited. Again with future seasons in mind, the A’s had Cotton and Manaea on pitch counts that kept them from going deeper despite how they were pitching.
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I don’t know if it’s staying a little more focused mentally or just making sure I make good pitches and execute. Basically it comes down to executing in big counts.
Daniel Mengden, A’s pitcher
“At times our starting pitching’s been the issue but certainly not this series,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s a group (Houston) that swings the bat pretty well. I think overall we held them down pretty good as far as the offensive end.”
Mengden matched his predecessors early Wednesday, retiring his first 10 batters before Yuli Gurriel singled in the fourth inning. He allowed a run in the fifth on two walks, a wild pitch and a groundout, then gave up three in the sixth in a span of three batters. Jose Altuve singled, Carlos Correa delivered a run-scoring double on a two-strike pitch, and Evan Gattis hit a two-run homer – one of Gattis’ two in the game and eight this season against the A’s.
“Just execution,” Mengden said. “The 0-2 to Correa, fastball’s supposed to be up and it was belt high. And then sometimes you make a good pitch and they have good hitters here in the big leagues, and they’ll hit it out.”
Melvin agreed that the pitch to Gattis, a curveball, was “a good pitch. It’s almost on the ground. And he golfs it out of the ballpark.”
Mengden faced two more batters before exiting, still searching for his first home win. He has seven losses in eight starts at the Coliseum since being called up from Triple-A Nashville on June 11, and overall he is 2-8 with a 5.74 ERA in his rookie season. After Wednesday’s start, he said he is still “getting experience every time out.”
“I don’t know if it’s staying a little more focused mentally or just making sure I make good pitches and execute,” Mengden said. “Basically it comes down to executing in big counts. When you’re facing the heart of the order, like Altuve, Correa and Gattis, you can’t make mistakes.”
At times our starting pitching’s been the issue but certainly not this series. That’s a group (Houston) that swings the bat pretty well. I think overall we held them down pretty good as far as the offensive end.
Bob Melvin, A’s manager
Catcher Bruce Maxwell, who also spent most of this season at Triple A before being called up in July and was behind the plate working with Mengden on Wednesday, put that adjustment another way.
“If you miss down there (in the minors), they might miss it,” Maxwell said. “But up here if you miss a spot, or if you miss a good location, they usually make you pay for it.”
All series it seemed the A’s had a small margin for error. An RBI double by Brett Eibner in the fourth inning Wednesday hopped the fence, preventing another run from scoring. Eibner also hit a sharp liner with a runner on second in the sixth that Gurriel speared on a dive at third base, ending the inning.
The Astros went ahead 5-3 in the seventh on a close play at the plate, as George Springer sprinted for home on Gurriel’s groundout to Marcus Semien and slid in under the relay of first baseman Yonder Alonso. The game ended when Arismendy Alcantara was thrown out trying to steal second base by Astros catcher Jason Castro, a call that was upheld after an umpires’ review.
“There were a lot of plays in this game that were just a few inches one way or the other, and if we get them, we’re probably talking about a different game right now,” Melvin said. “But we didn’t. And they won the game.”