Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's streak-extending win over Astros

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's streak-extending win over Astros

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The A’s took a noteworthy step toward changing the narrative in their recent history against the Houston Astros.

Coming through during clutch moments, both at the plate and on the mound, Oakland beat baseball’s best team 6-4 Tuesday at Minute Maid Park to run their winning streak to four.

Ryon Healy hit his first career grand slam to snap a 1-1 tie in the sixth, and starter Sean Manaea notched his first victory in seven career starts against the Astros, throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball.

George Springer’s three-run homer off Liam Hendriks pulled Houston to within two runs in the ninth, but with two runners aboard, Santiago Casilla coaxed a 3-6-1 double play from Brian McCann to end it.

The A’s (35-42), who have stumbled so badly on the road for the majority of this season, moved to 4-0 on this six-game road trip and defeated the Astros (52-26) for just the second time in their past 17 meetings with them.

Key two-out rallies: They came in with a majors-worst .225 average with runners in scoring position, but the A’s delivered in some key at-bats and scored five of their six runs with two outs. Bruce Maxwell singled home Khris Davis in the second to get the A’s on the board. Then with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, with the score 1-1, Ryon Healy capped an eight-pitch at-bat with an opposite-field grand slam, his 18th homer of the season.

Making himself at home: Sean Manaea (7-4) flirted with danger throughout his 5 2/3 innings but wound up registering his first victory in seven career starts against Houston. He stranded two runners in scoring position in each of the first two innings, then wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with minimal damage. With no outs and the bags filled, Manaea fell behind 3-0 to Evan Gattis. Gattis chased a low pitch that would have been ball four and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. A run scored on the play but that play defused the rally and Manaea escaped with just the one run scoring that kept it a 1-1 game. The lefty gave up nine hits, but he’s now allowed just one earned run over three career starts at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park (16 IP).

Madson comes up clutch: Ryan Madson took two losses in four appearances at Minute Maid Park last season and allowed five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. But manager Bob Melvin called on him in a crucial situation Tuesday, with two runners aboard and George Springer hitting in the sixth with the A’s up 5-1. Madson got Springer swinging on a 97 mile-per-hour fastball to end the inning and keep Houston from jumping back into the game after Oakland had scored four to command the lead. Madson retired all four batters he faced with three strikeouts.

Maxwell continues his roll: The A’s catcher went 3-for-4 and is 10-for-18 since being recalled from Triple-A Nashville. He also threw out Jose Altuve trying to steal second in the first.

Casilla slams the door: After Springer’s three-run shot in the ninth, Santiago Casilla entered and allowed singles to Altuve and Carlos Correa to bring the winning run to the plate. But Casilla retired pinch hitter Josh Reddick on a foul pop out and got McCann on the game-ending double play, getting over to cover first to cap the play.

'Premier guy' Healy continues hot streak with two homers vs Yankees

'Premier guy' Healy continues hot streak with two homers vs Yankees

OAKLAND — Nothing about Ryon Healy’s pregame demeanor suggested he was in for a big afternoon.

The A’s young slugger described himself as especially “grumpy” while taking his morning swings in the batting cage with assistant hitting coach Marcus Jensen.

A few hours later, Healy was in a much cheerier mood while discussing his third multi-homer game of June. That headlined Oakland’s 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees on a sun-drenched afternoon at the Coliseum.

“Marcus, on the walk back up (to the clubhouse afterward) he was laughing saying, ‘All that fuss you did in the cage and you go out and have a day like that?’ Healy explained. “I said, ‘I’ve got to get it out of my system. I’d rather do it before the game than during it.’”

Healy’s 16th and 17th homers helped propel the A’s to their third consecutive win over the Yankees. They can finish off a four-game sweep Sunday, but they’ve already won the season series for the fourth time in the past five years against New York.

This weekend also continues a season-long pattern for the A’s:

Dominance on their home field (a 21-13 record) coupled with their extreme struggles on the road, where they are 9-25.

One couldn’t blame the A’s for feeling like this weekend’s series is being played on the road. They’ve drawn crowds of 30,000-plus each of the past two games, but a large portion in the stands is wearing Yankee pinstripes. And much like a May series in which the A’s took three of four from Boston before a heavy Red Sox fan contingent, playing well in this series has to be extra gratifying.

In fairness, the home fans are making a lot of noise this weekend too, and the A’s are giving them lots of motivation.

Besides the big days from Healy and leadoff man Matt Joyce, who homered and reached base five times, Oakland’s pitching held the Yankees to five hits. Jesse Hahn (3-4) gave up just three hits over five innings, but he ran his pitch count to 105, leaving a lot of work for a bullpen that was short-handed.

Liam Hendriks, Josh Smith, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle combined for four scoreless innings, six strikeouts and no walks. Smith, a right-hander who usually has been called upon for mop-up duty, earned praise from manager Bob Melvin for his work in a 1-2-3 seventh.

“It was awesome to see the way we pieced it together today and have each guy come in and feed off the guy’s performance before,” Doolittle said of the relief corps. “There’s a lot of confidence for us down there.”

Healy continues to impress in his first full major league season, to the point where Doolittle claimed “you could put him in the All-Star conversation.” It’s not so far-fetched.

Riding a 21-for-56 stretch over his past 14 games, Healy has boosted his overall average to .288. He’s tied Yonder Alonso and Khris Davis for the team home run lead at 17, and his 42 RBI are just one behind Davis.

“He went through a considerable struggle at one point in time this year too, and he made the adjustment,” Melvin said. “That’s what the really good hitters do. … He’s a premier guy.”

Earlier this season, Healy said he hadn’t found his true comfort zone at the plate despite compiling numbers that would suggest otherwise. He maintains that position now, which could explain the batting cage grumpiness.

“I still think it’s getting there,” Healy said. “I’m not satisfied with the consistency of it. There are things I’m not doing well enough on a day-to-day basis.”

The things he’s doing right now suit the A’s just fine.

Red-hot Healy finding best way to put the DH talk to rest

Red-hot Healy finding best way to put the DH talk to rest

OAKLAND — Ryon Healy is over the whole “designated hitter” storyline.

He enjoys talking about it like someone would enjoy settling into a dentist’s chair for a root canal. Whether he realizes it or not, however, Healy is finding the best way to put the whole topic to rest.

If he keeps hitting the way he did Monday night — while serving as the A’s DH against Toronto — there will be no need to ask about adjustments, difficulties or challenges of not playing a defensive position.

For the second time in three days, Healy blasted two homers in a game. He also drove in all five of Oakland’s runs in a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays. The only relevant storyline at this point seems to be that Healy can hit, regardless of whether he’s playing third base, first base or serving as DH, which has been his primary job in his first full major league season.

“You guys like to talk about it, everybody likes to talk about it,” Healy said. “I don’t really care what the role is. I need to be physically and mentally prepared so I can have success whatever the situation may be.”

He rattles off the right kind of responses like a veteran, stressing preparation and a willingness to do whatever the team needs. Those around Healy know the truth though. He does desire to grab his glove every day and have a reason to use it.

“He can hit,” manager Bob Melvin said, “and he’s semi-acclimating to the DH role now, which he doesn't want to admit to because he wants to be in the field, obviously.”

Melvin joked that he was thinking of having someone hit ground balls to Healy in the clubhouse during his down time, just to keep him from wrapping his mind too tightly around each and every at-bat.

Healy broke into a laugh when he heard that.

“He jokes about that,” Healy said. “But I was seriously playing ‘Wall Ball’ with myself in Houston. I had to go down the tunnel and I was throwing the ball against the wall. I felt like a 5-year-old kid that was in a timeout.”

That’s as much as he’ll dive into detail about his adjustments. Before the game, Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar, one of Healy’s closest friends in the majors and a workout partner in offseasons past, talked about the communication the two maintain even as they’re playing on opposite sides of the country.

“Just little texts back and forth,” Pillar said. “I think I know his swing. He knows mine. … He’s had to deal with some adversity this year to adjust to that DH role.”

But now Healy seems to be settling in. Twenty-eight of his 54 starts have come as the DH this season. Over his past 29 games, he’s hitting .333 (38-for-114) with 10 homers. For the season, Healy is batting .284 with 13 home runs and 33 RBI.

First baseman Yonder Alonso notices a hitter whose confidence and comfort level continue to grow.

“The best thing about him is he’s able to turn the page, whether a good day or a bad day, and he comes prepared every day,” Alonso said. “He’s always asking questions, trying to learn and get better.”

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Left fielder Khris Davis left the game in the eighth inning with calf tightness. Melvin said Davis would be re-evaluated Tuesday.