Oakland A's

A's find two bright spots in tough shutout loss to Astros

A's find two bright spots in tough shutout loss to Astros

HOUSTON — Some losses go down tougher than others, and that’s true for Bob Melvin whether it’s April or whether it’s August and his team is playing out the string.

The body language and demeanor said it all for the A’s manager Saturday after a 3-0 loss to the Astros, in which Oakland didn’t advance a single runner past second base.

Houston right-hander Collin McHugh brought a 4.88 ERA into the game over five starts since returning from a shoulder injury. He wound up celebrating his first victory of 2017 after six stellar innings.

“He threw the ball good, (but) I expected us to score some runs tonight,” Melvin said.

The A’s were done in by five ground-ball double plays, including a game-ending 5-4-3 job from Ryon Healy, which was reversed on replay review after Healy initially was called safe.

“Those things are killers,” catcher Bruce Maxwell said. “It just didn’t roll our way today.”

So the A’s (53-70) were left to pick through the scraps of this one to find some silver linings, and there were a couple.

Kendall Graveman held Houston to two runs over six innings, and the damage off him came on a two-run single from Marwin Gonzalez that glanced off the glove of second baseman Jed Lowrie. It was the second strong outing in a row for Graveman, who’s now got four starts under his belt since returning from his second stint on the disabled list this season for shoulder issues.

Most encouraging from his standpoint was he didn’t really have his best stuff, yet still managed to limit an opponent that leads the majors in every significant offensive category, including runs, batting average and homers.

“I think it’s the first one where I’ve been back when I had to kind of pitch and grind through,” said Graveman (3-4). “I didn’t have my best stuff. It’s just one of those where you’ve got to get out there and compete.”

The highlight of the game for the A’s came when center fielder Boog Powell unleashed a strike to home plate that nailed Alex Bregman trying to score from second on Jose Altuve’s single in the fifth.

Maxwell barely had to move his mitt to apply the tag, and count the A’s catcher as the most surprised person in the ballpark that Powell even gave him a chance on the play.

“It caught me off guard,” Maxwell admitted. “I haven’t played with Powell in a long time. I didn’t expect there to be that big of a play at home. He was fairly deep in the outfield as well.”

Powell, a 24-year-old rookie who was acquired from Seattle for Yonder Alonso, said he’s worked on his throwing in the minors in recent seasons.

“I didn’t (have a good arm) back in the day,” Powell said. “I’m definitely improving my arm strength. I pride myself on getting the ball out as quick as I can.”

It’s the kind of play that sticks in the memory bank as Powell tries to make his mark in the wide open battle to be the A’s center fielder in 2018. His throw to ring up Bregman was at least one moment from Saturday night that gave Melvin reason to smile.

“He can play the outfield, no doubt about it,” Melvin said. “It was a big play at the time, and it should give you a little momentum to go back out there and do a little better offensively.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 3-0 loss in Houston

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Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's 3-0 loss in Houston

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — The A’s pitching staff endured a rough series against Kansas City to finish out the last homestand.

Go figure that Oakland arrived in Houston to start a six-game road trip, and it’s the offense that has been non-existant. The Astros blanked the A’s 3-0 on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, negating a strong effort from right-hander Kendall Graveman.

Through 18 innings of this series, the A’s have advanced exactly one runner as far as third base. That came Friday night on Matt Joyce’s eighth-inning homer, accounting for the only run scored by Oakland so far in Houston.

Getting runners on base wasn’t really the tough part Saturday. Grounding into five double plays was what did them in offensively. It was fitting that the game ended on a replay overturn that gave the Astros’ a 5-4-3 double play on Ryon Healy’s grounder to end it. Healy originally was ruled safe.

GRAVEMAN ROUNDING INTO FORM: In his fourth start back from a shoulder injury, Graveman built on his previous outing when he beat the Baltimore Orioles. He went six innings Saturday and gave up two runs. The only damage off him came with the bases loaded in the fourth. Marwin Gonzalez hit a sharp grounder to the left of second baseman Jed Lowrie. The ball glanced off his glove, allowing two runners to score. It was ruled a two-run single, but it appeared a makable play that should have resulted in at least one out for Graveman.

BREGMAN STRIKES AGAIN: Astros third baseman homered for the second time in two nights. His solo shot off Ryan Dull in the eighth added some breathing room for Houston.

FAMILIAR FACE: Former Athletic Tyler Clippard, who the Astros just recently acquired, finished out the ninth to close it out.

SHOWING OFF THE ARM: Houston had a chance to build on its two-run lead in the fifth, but A’s center fielder Boog Powell made an on-the-money throw to the plate to nail Bregman, who tried to score from second on Jose Altuve’s single. Powell got the ball to the plate on the fly, with catcher Bruce Maxwell simply having to apply the tag. The Astros challenged the call but it stood upon replay review.

SHOWING OFF THE ARM, PART II: Khris Davis’ name doesn’t often appear under this subhead, but the A’s left fielder nearly threw out Astros speedster George Springer as he legged out a double in the third. Actually, Davis should have gotten the assist as the throw beat him to the bag. But Springer was safe on a nifty slide to avoid Jed Lowrie’s tag. Davis fielded the liner off a ricochet from the left field wall, then made one of his strongest throws in an A’s uniform. It’s worth noting that since Davis wrote a story in The Players Tribune, detailing the mental battles he endures with his outfield throwing, his throws have actually appeared to be stronger.

Bregman's big night against A's catches attention of his counterpart

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Bregman's big night against A's catches attention of his counterpart

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.”