HOUSTON -- The Oakland Athletics are set to stare down a new opponent with some very familiar faces in the Lone Star State. The A's open up the first of 19 games against their new division rivals, the Houston Astros.
On the mound for the Astros will be former A's prospect Brad Peacock, making his MLB debut. Peacock was acquired by Oakland in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals. He was later shipped to Houston with Chris Carter in exchange for current A's, Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez.
"I think the first time you play your former team there is something to that," A's manager Bob Melvin said.
It got even more interesting when just before the team boarded the plane for Houston, they sent reliever Travis Blackley, who had been designated for assignment, to the Astros in a trade. Blackley is with his new team in time for Friday's game. He says it feels like changing schools.
It's been two weeks since the Australian-born reliever has appeared in a game, and he says he didn't even have anyone to play catch with after he was designated for assignment. He spent the time off touring the Bay Area with stops in Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and a surprise visit to the stands of the Oakland Coliseum.
His girlfriend and her family had an extra ticket and he though, why not?
"They're always yelling 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie' out to me when I'm pitching, I may as well say 'Good'ay' to them," Blackley said of the right field fans he visited. "I got an abnormally high amount of tweets and messages on Instagram from A's fans."
On the A's side, first baseman Nate Freiman was plucked off waivers from the Astros on March 23, and will likely get his opportunity to prove Houston shouldn't have passed up on him.
Peacock never made his way to Oakland, the highest level he pitched at was Triple-A, where he was 12-9 with a 6.01 ERA. His numbers didn't necessarily reflect his skill level, because a lot of players in Sacramento were playing out of position as they were working on being more versatile defensively. Several current A's were teammates of his with the River Cats.
"It's his first start with the team, he's really excited and really pumped up," Carter said. "He's trying to impress today."
Carter spent 67 games with the A's in 2012. As Brandon Moss' right-handed complement at first base, he hit 16 home runs and had 39 RBI. Carter is now a left fielder for the Astros and has the power to put runs on the board at any moment. He was traded because the A's wanted to open up the DH spot for their extra outfielders. He says he's had his eye on this date on the calendar for a while.
"I'm excited for today," Carter said. "I still talk to a lot of the guys on the team."
The A's may have the most valuable weapon of the bunch. Infielder Jed Lowrie is hitting .462 with four doubles, one home run and three RBI in his first four games this season. Not only will he be useful on the field, but he can provide key strategy for the A's, who haven't been to Minute Maid Park since 2007.
Lowrie says the outfield with the hill in center field and the jagged line in left field where the Crawford Boxes are located can present some challenges.
"The Crawford boxes are a little funny because they stick out and there's that really sharp angle," Lowrie said. "I've seen different theories on it, there are some guys that give that entire left field line and try to play to that corner."
His insights may be able to help first base coach Tye Waller and Melvin with their outfield alignments. The A's also have special instructor Phil Garner, a native of Texas, helping with advanced scouting.
Even Astros manager Bo Porter played for the A's in 2000. The amount of former A's may make it easier to figure out the Astros, who play in Florida for spring training. With the Astros in a rebuilding mode, it is important for Oakland to pad the win column against their new division-rivals.