DETROIT -- When the Oakland Athletics traded All-Star pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill in the offseason many thought the organization was throwing away the season. Little did they know they were acquiring two young aces in the making that would end up starting the first two games of the American League Divisional Series.Oakland announced on Friday that Jarrod Parker, who was acquired in the Cahill trade, would be taking the mound in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, and that Tommy Milone, who was swapped for Gonzalez, would be pitching in Game 2.The A's rotation may be youthful, but it's hard to say their rookies lack experience at this point. Oakland rookie pitchers notched a major league record 53 wins this season, so it makes sense that they'd ride their two best young arms through the playoffs. Parker and Milone finished the 2012 season tied with a team-high 13 wins, the most by a rookie pitcher in A's franchise history.The two first-year pitchers have been so successful this season that A's manager Bob Melvin often says they cannot be considered rookies anymore. Parker made 29 starts, Milone made 31. Parker didn't start the season on the A's roster but quickly earned a spot and proved that he is one of the top rookie pitchers in the game."I think the way Jarrod has been pitching here recently coupled with the fact that we'll keep him on regular routine was the final decision," Melvin said. "But we're comfortable with either."Parker has been poised under pressure all season long. He won all three of his starts against the Rangers, and in September he defeated the Angels in Anaheim in front of a sold out crowd, and held the Yankees to one run in New York. Having already proven he can stay calm under big-game pressure, Parker isn't treating Game 1 in Detroit any differently."I try not to make too much out of the situation," Parker said. "Obviously we've had some big games as a group and we've had huge situations as a group, and it's something where you just try to slow it down."Just because he is stoic doesn't mean he isn't recognizing the opportunity."I'm excited," Parker said. "Obviously this team has gone through a lot this year. And you know, we're happy to be here. It's kind of a tribute to the work we've done as a team. It's an honor."Parker finished with 140 strikeouts which ranks him fourth all-time in Oakland history for a rookie. He also allowed one run or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts, according to Elias Sports Bureau he is only the second pitcher since 1900 to do so. Parker is excited to face reigning American League MVP and Cy Young-winner Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA) in Game 1 because he says the A's relish the underdog role. Even though Oakland won 94 games and Detroit won 88, the youthful A's could still be considered the underdogs when up against the Goliaths of the Tigers lineup in Prince Fielder and triple crown-winner Miguel Cabrera."We've been 'The David' all year," Parker said. "I think obviously it's a role and an image that we embrace and it's fun."Milone will be opposed by Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA) in the second game of the series. Milone, 25, is eager for the opportunity as well."I mean it's huge," Milone said. "Obviously we want to be in big situations and I feel we've been able to do that all year. It's nothing different now."While Parker is impressive for his poise, Milone's main attribute is his control. He pitches to contact and makes batters put the ball in play. The young lefty walked just 36 batters in 190 innings pitched this season, his 1.71 walks per nine innings was the second best mark in the American League. He doesn't intend to change the approach that led to his 3.71 ERA, which was third best among rookie pitchers."Just go out there and try to remember your game," Milone said. "You can't try to do to much. For me, I can't go out there and try to throw 95 miles per hour. It's just not going to work."You just have to remember it's the same game whether or not it's the postseason. Just go out there, have fun, and continue to pitch, and play baseball."The A's young pitchers were forced to sink or swim, and they kept the team afloat during the playoff push. The starting rotation lost veterans Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, and Brett Anderson all within a matter of weeks."We've gone though a lot in our starting rotation this year," Parker said. "Tommy has been here all year, and I've been here a little bit less than he has. And we kind of unspoken have done it together. We kind of knew we had to pick up the other guys."Parker faced Detroit on May 13 and allowed two runs over five and two-thirds innings but took the loss. Milone is 1-0 in two starts against the Tigers. He has allowed five runs -- four earned -- in 11 23 innings against Detroit this season.The A's rookie 1-2 punch can be proud of what they accomplished this season, but first they have to worry about the task at hand, stopping the Tigers and advancing to the American League Championship Series. No matter what happens in the playoffs, though, the A's know they have two starting pitchers with a bright future."We knew we had to step up," Parker said. "It's something that after the year we're going to look back and reflect, know we had a pretty good role in things that have happened and knowing we were a big part of this."
HOUSTON — If the A’s eventually want to return to the American League West mountaintop, they got a good look at the team they’ll have to conquer.
The Astros boast one of the majors’ most talented and athletic rosters, with enough of a youthful core to suggest they’ll be battling for division supremacy for years to come. They took two of three from Oakland at Minute Maid Park, capped by Sunday’s 7-2 decision in which left-hander Dallas Keuchel held the A’s to just three hits over 7 2/3 innings.
The loss ended a season-opening stretch in which the A’s played 22 of their first 25 against AL West foes. They saw every team in the division at least once, going 9-13 in that stretch and 11-14 overall for the month of April.
It’s tough to glean too much from one month of play, but the Astros (16-9) so far are living up to the hype that stems from several notable offseason additions they made. They hold a three-game lead over the second-place Los Angeles Angels, with Oakland and Texas both five games back and Seattle 5 1/2 back.
Before the A’s bother worrying about who they have to knock off at the top, there are baby steps to conquer.
They need to generate some consistent offense, which has been lacking in their 1-5 start to this nine-game road trip. With that in mind, they’ll gladly welcome back center fielder Rajai Davis, who is expected to return from a strained left hamstring and rejoin the lineup Tuesday in Minnesota.
Also Tuesday, Sonny Gray will make his 2017 debut after missing the first four weeks with a strained lat muscle in his right side. One of the primary April storylines for the A’s involved the players they lost to injury. Now, they at least draw some optimism from the ones they’ll welcome back.
“We need to get these guys back,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ve been leaning on (backup center fielder) Jaff Decker a little harder than we need to. You get Raj back doing his thing at the top of the lineup and get your No. 1 pitcher back, hopefully this is a trend on an upward swing as far as getting players back, as opposed to losing them like we have been.”
Jesse Hahn, who took Sunday’s loss, could eventually be out of a rotation spot with Gray’s return. But that decision gets delayed with fellow starter Sean Manaea having just joined the 10-day disabled list with a strained shoulder.
Hahn was solid Sunday, going six innings and allowing four runs (two earned). But he got a taste of the diverse ways that Houston can beat a pitcher. The Astros have speed, as they showed in the first inning when George Springer beat out an infield single and scored all the way from first on Carlos Correa’s double.
They also have run producers up and down the batting order. Evan Gattis, who clubbed 32 homers last season, hit seventh Sunday and drove an RBI double to left that just missed being a two-run homer.
“One through nine, it’s a solid lineup over there,” Hahn said. “You can’t take any pitches off, any at-bats off. You’ve almost got to treat every guy the same or they can hurt you.”
Catcher Josh Phegley says the A’s have a good read on the rest of the division and the challenge that sits before him and his teammates.
“We’ve seen the teams we’re gonna face most of the year. We get a feel for their bullpen, some of the subs they make during the game,” he said. “I like the way our team stacks up against everyone else.”
But the A’s have their work cut out. Last year, they were 13-12 at the end of April, just 1 1/2 games out of first place before eventually finishing in the cellar. As they begin this May, they are three games under .500 and already five games out.
Help is on the way with the return of Gray and Davis. Now the A’s need to parlay that into some victories.
HOUSTON – The A’s got a sampling of what’s made Dallas Keuchel one of the majors’ top pitchers through the first month.
The Astros lefty pitched into the eighth and allowed just one Athletic to advance past first base as Oakland absorbed a 7-2 loss in the rubber game of this weekend series at Minute Maid Park.
After an off-year in 2016, Keuchel has regained his 2015 Cy Young-winning form, becoming the American League’s first five-game winner of 2017. He held the A’s to three hits over 7 2/3 innings, as the A’s fell to 1-5 so far on this three-city road trip. They’ve been held to two or fewer runs in five of their past seven games.
Jesse Hahn (1-2) turned in a quality start for the A’s, going six innings and giving up four runs (two earned) on eight hits. The Astros got a run off him in the first when George Springer beat out an infield hit and scored from first on Carlos Correa’s double down the left-field line. Evan Gattis’ double off the top of the left field wall scored another run in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.
Then a key play came in the fifth. Brian McCann hit a sharp bouncer toward first that took a big hop and got past Ryon Healy for a two-run single and a four-run cushion that Keuchel (5-0) wasn’t going to let slip away.
The A’s closed April with an 11-14 record and trail first-place Houston by five games
Starting pitching report
With Sonny Gray returning from the disabled list, Hahn is trying to prove he deserves to stick in the rotation moving forward. He was coming off an outstanding performance in Anaheim, when he held the Angels to one hit over eight innings. He wasn’t as sharp Sunday, but he wasn’t terrible either. The right-hander struck out six and didn’t issue a walk, but his command betrayed him a bit in the fourth. With one out, he hit Yuli Gurriel with a pitch and then advanced him to second with a wild pitch. Hahn fell behind Gattis 3-1 when the A’s killer hit a run-scoring double to left that fell just a few feet short of being a home run. The Astros’ two-run rally in the fifth was aided by Josh Reddick reaching base on yet another catchers’ interference play. Stephen Vogt was called for the infraction twice Friday night with Reddick hitting. Josh Phegley was behind the plate Sunday.
Any thoughts of an A’s ninth-inning comeback were dashed when Frankie Montas served up a three-run homer to Marwin Gonzalez in the bottom of the eighth. Oakland’s bullpen has surrendered 16 runs in 15 2/3 innings against the Astros this season for a 9.19 ERA.
At the plate
The A’s offense got cranking too little too late. Trailing 4-0 in the eighth, Adam Rosales singled and eventually came around to score on Ryon Healy’s two-out single. Rosales aided the rally with a steal of second base, which snapped a string of eight games without a stolen base for Oakland. They’re expecting to welcome Rajai Davis back from the disabled list Tuesday, and his speed is certainly needed with the offense scuffling. Down 7-1 in the ninth, Josh Phegley doubled and scored on Chad Pinder’s single. The A’s loaded the bases with two outs, prompting Astros manager A.J. Hinch to call on closer Ken Giles to retire Yonder Alonso for the final out.
In the field
Phegley’s catchers’ interference call went down as the game’s only error.
The turnout was 34,880.
The A’s wrap this nine-game road trip with three at Minnesota. They went 4-2 against the Twins last year. Sonny Gray will make his first start of the season in Tuesday’s 5:10 opener, opposed by Ervin Santana (4-0, 0.77). Wednesday — Kendall Graveman (2-1, 2.25) vs. lefty Hector Santiago (2-1, 2.43), 5:10 p.m. Thursday — Jharel Cotton (2-3, 5.00) vs. Kyle Gibson (0-3, 8.06), 10:10 a.m.