HOUSTON — Andrew Triggs keeps checking off all the right boxes in his first season as a major league starting pitcher.
Coming into the year, manager Bob Melvin said the right-hander’s biggest challenge would be retiring lefty hitters. He’s done that splendidly.
On Saturday, the A’s needed to see if Triggs could bounce back after his first rough outing of 2017. He responded with the best of his 11 career starts, holding a potent Astros lineup off the scoreboard for seven innings as the A’s registered a 2-1 victory that snapped their five-game losing streak.
The effective cutter that eluded Triggs when he lost to the Mariners last Sunday was back. Houston’s hitters waved helplessly at the pitch and began their walk back to the dugout all in the same motion, as Triggs rang up a career-high nine strikeouts. His seven innings also were a career high for the 28-year-old.
“We’re not really swinging the bats right now,” Melvin said. “We score two runs and we’re facing a lineup that you expect to score a bunch of runs. So to pitch as well as he did and go through the lineup three times, give us seven innings of work, is pretty good.
“He had the one off-outing, and every outing (besides that) has been pretty spotless.”
Triggs, whose 1.84 ERA ranks seventh in the American League, doesn’t blow people away with his fastball. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot that suggests it might be easy for left-handed hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. Last season, the batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all roughly 40 to 50 points higher for lefties than for righties off Triggs.
All he’s done coming out of the gate this season is hold lefties to an .087 batting average (4-for-46). Another revealing stat: Opposing cleanup hitters are 0-for-14 off him.
Triggs credited catchers Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley and, when he’s been up with the big club, Bruce Maxwell for their expertise in calling pitches against lefties.
“They’ve done such a good job keeping the sequences unpredictable,” he said. “You command pitches, you’re gonna get guys out. I know the stereotype is when you throw from the angle that I do, you’re gonna struggle with lefties. I’ve been aware, at least of that profile, for a while. I’ve worked on it quite a bit.”
Triggs had his entire repertoire working Saturday, according to Vogt.
“He was keeping them off-balance. Even when it seemed they were starting to sit on his slider, he starts sneaking some heaters by them. He was outstanding.”
But he had help. First baseman Yonder Alonso made a terrific leaping grab of Josh Reddick’s liner in the fifth that might have gone for extra bases. An inning before that, Jaff Decker made an on-the-money throw to third from deep right field to nail Carlos Beltran tagging up on a fly ball.
“He’s got a good arm so don’t sleep on him at all,” Triggs said.
Given how their month has gone, it’s no surprise the A’s got both their runs on homers. They’ve gone deep 31 times in April, their most homers in the month since they clubbed 34 in 2006. Lowrie, who’s spent two stints with the Astros and owns an offseason home in Houston, went deep to right to give the A’s a 1-0 lead. Khris Davis mashed his 10th homer in the eighth for what wound up being an important insurance run when Jose Altuve followed with a homer off Sean Doolittle.
Davis’ teammates by now are accustomed to seeing the left fielder flaunt his opposite-field power. He’s hit three homers this series, all to straightaway right or right-center.
Said Lowrie: “I think at this point it’s fair to call it special.”
HOUSTON – The clean game that manager Bob Melvin had been seeking from his team finally came Saturday night.
Andrew Triggs was excellent in rebounding from his rough previous start, and home runs from Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis powered the A’s 2-1 victory over the Astros. That snapped Oakland’s five-game losing streak, along with a 10-game losing streak against Houston.
A night after committing three errors, the A’s played mistake-free defense and got a couple of highlight-reel plays in support of Triggs (4-1), who blanked the Astros over a career-high seven innings and set a new career high with nine strikeouts.
Lowrie, facing the team with which he’s spent two separate stints, launched a homer off the facing of the second deck in right field in the fourth to break a scoreless tie. Davis padded the lead in the eighth with his signature opposite-field prowess, clearing the wall in right for his third homer of the series and 10th of the season, tying the Yankees’ Aaron Judge for the American League lead.
But it all started with Triggs, who won his first three starts but gave up six runs against Seattle last weekend. He ate up seven innings and turned it over to his bullpen.
Jose Altuve homered off Sean Doolittle in the eighth to cut the A’s lead to 2-1, but Santiago Casilla closed it out in the ninth for his fourth save.
Starting pitching report
Triggs retired 10 in a row to finish his outing, but the key to the early part of his night was stranding runners. He wiggled out of a one-out jam with men on second and third in the first inning, striking out Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran. He stranded runners on first and second in the third, then got another big strikeout to end the fourth with a man on third. Before Saturday, Triggs hadn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning of a game he’d started in the majors.
Casilla gave up Beltran’s infield single to lead off the ninth. But after a replay reversal negated an A’s double play, Casilla ended it by getting Brian McCann to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
At the plate
Two big swings of the bat were all it took for the A’s to notch their first win in five games of this three-city road trip. Lowrie, who came in hitting .375 over his previous eight games, hit a towering shot to right off Joe Musgrove (1-2) for his second homer of the season. Then Davis did his thing, blasting a shot to the opposite field for his 10th homer of April. He had just nine homers in 83 career April games entering this season.
In the field
There was no shortage of highlight plays turned in defensively. Jaff Decker, starting in right field, made a perfect throw from near the warning track to nail Carlos Beltran trying to tag up on a fly ball in the fourth. The next inning, former Athletic Josh Reddick fired a strike to home to nail Chad Pinder trying to score from second on Lowrie’s single. But the A’s got Reddick right back when first baseman Yonder Alonso made a leaping grab on Reddick’s liner headed for right field.
The announced crowd was 32,147.
The A’s face a tough task in Sunday’s series finale, going against lefty Dallas Keuchel (4-0, 1.22). He’s the first pitcher in Astros history to go seven-plus innings and allow two or fewer runs in each of his first five starts. Jesse Hahn (1-1, 2.08) takes the ball for Oakland. First pitch is 11:10 a.m.