OAKLAND -- While the A’s hadn’t exactly been starved for offense during a 10-5 start, some of their purported big bats had been slow to come around. Friday, the A’s received what for them was perhaps the best cure for those ills -- a visit from the Houston Astros.
The A’s went 15-4 against the Astros last season, outscoring Houston by a total of 108-60 in the 19 games. Friday night at the Coliseum, facing Houston for the first time in 2014, they knocked starter Jarred Cosart out of the game in the first inning, scoring seven times before Cosart had recorded two outs.
Yoenis Cespedes, who was 4-for-his-last-25 entering the game, hit a two-run single in the first, homered in the second off reliever Paul Clemens and finished with three hits. Josh Reddick, batting .098 entering the game, also collected three hits, including a two-run homer off Cosart in the first that snapped a streak of 11 games without an extra-base hit.
It was by far the best game of the season for Reddick, who came in with four hits total on the year after a spring of such optimism surrounding the right fielder and his swing being better due to a healthy wrist. The home run to right-center, which ended Cosart’s outing, was Reddick’s first since last Sept. 15.
"It was just nice to get a couple hits," Reddick said. "Regardless of the home run, as good as that felt, just actually grinding and hitting some balls hard that actually worked out. Just actually helping the team for once felt really good."
Reddick said he has tried during this slump not to overdo things in the cage or in batting practice so as not to "over-think stuff." He said he actually skipped cage work altogether Friday "just to keep my mind off it," though he doesn’t plan to make that a habit.
It’s still early enough that a few good games from Reddick could boost his numbers back into respectable territory quickly -- as it is, his average jumped 58 points Friday to .156. While he said he’s trying to ignore the numbers for that reason, Reddick said he’s hoping this game can be a springboard for him.
"I felt really good up there, the best I’ve felt since opening night," Reddick said. "So just got to build off of it and come back tomorrow and hopefully do the same if not better."
* Along with Cespedes and Reddick, Alberto Callaspo hit a three-run homer in the first and Coco Crisp added a two-run shot in the fifth. The A’s also drew 10 walks -- five of them in the first inning, and another three in the seventh, when Josh Donaldson worked one with the bases loaded to force in their 11th run.
Cosart, as a result, was already at 39 pitches when he departed despite getting one out. The A’s, who drew the third-most walks in the majors last season and the fifth-most in 2012, are at it again this year, ranking second behind Minnesota with 78 through their first 16 games.
"Similar to a boxer, some body blows, and you end up doing some damage because of it later on," Melvin said. "So that’s something we stress and the team to an extent is put together that way."
The seven-run first was the highest-scoring inning by any team in the majors so far this season. It no doubt took some pressure off the A’s after they’d finished their road trip playing back-to-back extra-inning games in Anaheim and three one-run games in a row.
"We’ve had trouble doing that recently. Mid- and late-games, we’ve been getting good at-bats, but at the beginning we haven’t looked so good," Melvin said. "So it was good to get off to a good start today."
* The beneficiary of all that support was right-hander Sonny Gray, who improved to 3-0 despite allowing a career-high nine hits and three earned runs -- or two more than he had given up in any of his first three starts. The tradeoff was Gray sat in the dugout for nearly a half-hour between the tops of the first and second innings -- not that he complained.
"If I could wait every inning like that, I would," Gray said.
The Astros scored all their runs off Gray in the fifth, when he allowed three singles in a row to start the inning, an RBI single to George Springer and a Chris Carter sacrifice fly. Both Jose Altuve’s single to put two runners on and Dexter Fowler’s hit to drive in the first run of the inning were softly hit balls that fell in front of A’s outfielders, and Gray said he "thought I made some really good pitches and they found some holes there."
Outside of that inning, Gray continued a season-long trend of putting runners on but then pitching himself out of trouble. He stranded runners in every inning except the fourth. It did, however, run up his pitch count, so that he was at 106 after six innings when Melvin pulled him from the game.
"We’ve seen him be able to recover like he does when he gets a little out of sync, and usually that’s more early in the game," Melvin said. "But he’s able to recover, so he just continues to be good without probably seeing his best game to this point yet."
* The game featured an odd scene at the end of the third inning with Astros manager Bo Porter leaving the dugout and walking onto the field barking something at A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie.
The set-up: Lowrie had made the final out of the first inning trying to bunt for a hit. The A’s led 7-0 at the time, but the Astros were playing an infield shift. When Lowrie came up for his next at-bat in the third, reliever Paul Clemens threw his first pitch low between Lowrie’s legs, and the second nearly hit Lowrie on the right hip.
Lowrie glared back at the mound after the first pitch and ended up flying out in the at-bat. As he stood near first base, he appeared to say something to Altuve (a former teammate), while Altuve was jogging off the field, which prompted Porter to come out of the dugout and address Lowrie.
"Bo was just telling me to ‘Go play shortstop,’" Lowrie said. "I just don’t understand why he came out in such a rage."
Lowrie explained the bunt hit attempt this way: "It’s the first inning and they’re playing the shift. And apparently they didn’t like (the bunt). But I’ve seen crazier things happen than a team coming back from seven runs down. We’re trying to win the game, and I felt like they were giving me that by playing the shift. And they got me out anyway, so I don’t know what the big deal was."
Porter was quoted by mlb.com as saying after the game: "Nothing happened. The game takes care of itself."
Melvin echoed Lowrie’s point that at such an early juncture in the game, he saw nothing wrong with attempting the bunt hit. "Two innings later they’re running," Melvin said. "So I think it depends which dugout you’re in.’
No further incidents occurred during the game, and Lowrie appeared to be chatting with Altuve later on when Altuve reached second as a baserunner.
"If we’re talking about the eighth inning, ninth inning, we’re up by seven, of course I’m not going to bunt," Lowrie said. "But they’re giving me that by playing the shift, and I’m a competitive guy. I’m trying to help my team win."
* Springer’s RBI single in the Astros’ three-run fifth was a shot back up the middle that Coco Crisp mishandled in center field, allowing Springer to take second. It was ruled an error on Crisp, snapping a 145-game errorless streak that was the fifth-longest in Oakland history by an A’s outfielder. Crisp did not make an error all of last season.
* Fernando Abad worked two scoreless innings in relief of Gray and has not allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings over seven appearances to start the season. His one blemish Friday night -- a seventh-inning single by Springer, the first hit Abad has allowed all year.
* In case you missed it, here’s the earlier story on the A’s agreeing to terms with reliever Sean Doolittle on a five-year deal through 2018 with options for 2019 and 2020. General tone: Both sides are happy.
* Quick turnaround to a day game Saturday, with left-hander Scott Kazmir (2-0, 1.40) starting for the A’s against Astros lefty Brett Obertholtzer (0-3, 3.80). First pitch set for 1:05 p.m.