Daniel Mengden’s second month in the majors has not gone nearly as well as his first, and before his latest start, manager Bob Melvin was asked if that should be a concern for the A’s.
“Everybody goes through some ups and downs, especially younger guys, and you just see how they deal with it,” Melvin said. “He’s a confident guy. … My feeling is he’ll be able to deal with it.”
Wednesday afternoon provided more turbulence for Mengden to navigate. The right-hander slogged through five innings of a 7-0 loss to the Houston Astros, who made him throw 101 pitches and pay for an early lack of command.
It’s a really tough lineup all the way around. I knew it was going to be a challenge. I knew walks would kill me against this lineup if they get anything going.
Mengden (1-5) walked four batters in the first two innings as the Astros scored all three of their runs against him. A’s pitchers issued eight walks while their offense was stymied by Houston right-hander Doug Fister. Oakland also missed a chance at a three-game sweep.
Since compiling a 2.81 ERA in his first four big-league starts, Mengden is winless with a 9.33 ERA over his last four. He allowed 11 runners, five on walks. Three walks came in the second inning and one forced in a run.
“He’s still trying to find his rhythm, I think,” Melvin said. “It was better the last couple of innings. But the command’s been his issue, basically with all his pitches.
“He has four pitches he can go to, and I think he’s getting behind and still trying to jam all four pitches in there as opposed to trying to establish one or two early on. Certainly when everything’s going well, that’s easy to do. When it’s not, maybe have to simplify a little.”
Mengden said his fastball was “a little erratic” so he and catcher Stephen Vogt tried using his cutter more often. He held Houston to one hit over his final three innings, but the damage had already been done.
“It’s a really tough lineup all the way around,” Mengden said. “I knew it was going to be a challenge. I knew walks would kill me against this lineup if they get anything going.”
Perhaps no hitter in the majors presents more of a challenge right now than Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who reached four times Wednesday on two singles and two walks. Altuve has reached base safely in 35 consecutive road games and hit safely in his past 19, a stretch in which he’s batting an extraordinary .519 (40 for 77).
“He absolutely demolished us this series,” Vogt said of Altuve, who was 8 for 12 in three games. “He’s some kind of special hitter. He’s got a magic wand. There’s no way to get him out. He’s got to get himself out.”
Fister has done an effective job of getting A’s hitters out this season. He allowed just four hits Wednesday and did not let a runner past second base. In four outings against the A’s this year, Fister has a 0.98 ERA.
“That’s the best we’ve ever seen him,” Vogt said. “All of his stuff was moving a lot and staying away from the middle of the plate. He was throwing some really good sequences out there. It was the best I’ve ever seen him look, so you tip your cap.”
9.33 Daniel Mengden’s ERA in his last four starts
Though Wednesday it was a letdown, offense is the primary reason Oakland is 4-2 since the All-Star break after facing two wild-card contenders, the Toronto Blue Jays and Astros.
The A’s next host the last-place Tampa Bay Rays for four games before road series against the first-place Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians that will take them up to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. That stretch could determine whether the A’s trade some of their veterans for prospects.
Oakland has been in position to sweep four of its last seven series. But the A’s have lost each of those series finales and 10 in a row overall – something Melvin is at a loss to explain.
“As long as we’re winning the first two, we’ll take it,” he said. “I don’t know whether or not we were flat (Wednesday). I think it was more Fister today than anything else.”