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 — A subplot to Friday night’s game at Minute Maid Park is one that will likely repeat itself often over the next few years.
The A’s and Astros boast two of the better young third basemen in the American League in Matt Chapman and Alex Bregman. Both are under 25, excellent with the glove and sure to face each other plenty as AL West opponents. The difference right now is Bregman is a key piece to a team likely to contend for the World Series.
Dallas Keuchel dominated the A’s on the mound Friday, but he got a huge assist from his 23-year-old third baseman.
Bregman made several standout defensive plays and drilled an opposite-field homer off Sean Manaea in the Astros’ 3-1 victory. Paying close attention from the opposing dugout was Chapman, who’s part of the A’s young nucleus that’s taking its lumps as it tries to learn how to win consistently at the major league level.
“He definitely showed up ready to play today,” Chapman said of Bregman. “He was all over the place at third base. I like to watch opposing third basemen and see what they kind of do. He’s definitely good at his craft.”
The two know each other well. Chapman, 24, played at Cal State Fullerton while Bregman attended LSU. They never faced each other in college, but they played together on Team USA in the summer of 2013, and Chapman praised the way Bregman goes about the game.
“(Bregman) literally is a shortstop playing third,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “So the ones on the run, especially to his backhand, he’s used to making those plays. He was significant in where the game went.”
Bregman has filled in at shortstop lately for Houston with Carlos Correa on the disabled list, though Marwin Gonzalez played short Friday.
Manaea, his fastball still lacking its typical zip of late, went six solid innings and showed improvement after three consecutive poor outings. The difference Friday was his ability to pitch inside better. He had a good changeup to offset a slider that he’s still trying to rediscover the feel for.
“I was just trying to let loose and not worry too much about the little things —mechanics , pitch grips, finishing through the ball,” Manaea said. “Today I just threw everything out the window and let my arm take care of everything.”
But his margin for error was minuscule with Keuchel dealing over seven innings of three-hit ball. Manaea fell behind Bregman 2-0 in the third and watched Bregman deposit a ball into the right field seats. Manaea then got ahead 0-2 on the next hitter, MVP candidate Jose Altuve. He tried to go high and tight with a fastball but caught too much plate, and Altuve made it back-to-back homers.
Former Athletic Josh Reddick singled home another run off Manaea in the sixth for a 3-0 Houston lead.
That was sufficient for Keuchel, whose repertoire was an eye-opener for Chapman and some of the A’s other young hitters. Chapman -- who came in leading AL rookies in runs, homers, RBI and extra base hits since the All-Star break -- doubled off the lefty in the fifth. But the A's only run came on Matt Joyce's eighth-inning homer against reliever Chris Devenski.
“(Keuchel) was getting ahead,” Chapman said. “If he happened to fall behind, he was still making quality pitches. You can prepare as much as you want, but until you get out there and see for yourself, that’s how you make adjustments.”
HOUSTON — Sean Manaea was much improved Friday night over his previous three starts for the A’s.
Unfortunately for the left-hander, he had no control over the work of his counterpart on the mound.
Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel was at his ground ball-inducing best, frustrating the A’s over seven scoreless innings as Houston continued its recent dominance over Oakland with a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel recorded 17 of his 21 outs via ground ball, an astonishing rate but typical of the way the 2015 AL Cy Young winner likes to do business. He entered the night leading the major leagues in groundball percentage (64.7) among those with at least 90 innings pitched. Keuchel (11-2) got a big assist from his infield defense, particularly third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez.
Manaea went six innings and gave up three runs, including back-to-back solo homers from Bregman and Jose Altuve in the third. But it was a definite step forward after his previous three outings, in which he surrendered 13 earned runs and 21 hits over just 6 2/3 innings.
The A’s mustered just five hits. Aside from Matt Joyce’s homer in the eighth, they didn’t advance a single runner past second base.
Oakland has dropped 11 of 13 games to Houston so far this season.
IMPROVED SHOWING: After showing signs of fatigue in his recent starts, Manaea showed improved form simply based on the batters he retired. His fastball generally sat between 89-91, still a bit below normal, but he overall pitched more effectively and turned in his longest outing since going seven innings July 27. He gave up six hits over his six innings, struck out two and walked one. A wild pitch in the sixth hurt, as it set up Josh Reddick’s RBI single.
HEY, IT’S PROGRESS: Seeing Manaea get through a scoreless first inning was noteworthy, as the A’s had gone five consecutive games with allowing at least one run in the first.
PINDER DEBUTS IN CENTER: Matt Olson entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, then went to right field in the bottom half. That pushed Chad Pinder over to center field, his first time playing the position in the major leagues. Manager Bob Melvin has mentioned Pinder is likely to draw some starts in center before the end of the season.
STRIKEOUTS MOUNTING FOR KD: After striking out four times Wednesday, the A’s cleanup man struck out three more times Friday. His 158 strikeouts entering the night were tied for eighth most in franchise history.
CATCHING UPDATE: Josh Phegley, coming back from a strained oblique, has played two games for Triple-A Nashville on a rehab assignment. Melvin said the A’s are not going to rush Phegley. Part of that is they think highly of the work Dustin Garneau has done in his place as the right-handed portion of the catching platoon with Bruce Maxwell.