HOUSTON -- Astros ace Dallas Keuchel is back to giving opponents a pain in the neck. Keuchel, making his fifth start since missing eight weeks with neck discomfort, turned in his second consecutive gem by throwing seven scoreless innings to lead the Astros to their third win in four games,
HOUSTON -- Astros ace Dallas Keuchel is back to giving opponents a pain in the neck. Keuchel, making his fifth start since missing eight weeks with neck discomfort, turned in his second consecutive gem by throwing seven scoreless innings to lead the Astros to their third win in four games, 3-1, over the Athletics on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel (11-2) allowed three hits and one walk and forced the A's into 16 ground-ball outs, the highest by an Astros pitcher this season. It was his fourth career game with at least 15 groundouts.
"He was awesome and really impressive how we went about it, with really one difficult inning where they made him work," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "When you can control contact the way he does -- what was it,  outs in the ground, counting the double play? -- it was an exceptional performance by him. He's fun to watch. It's easy to see why he's one of the elite pitchers in the league. He fields his position well and did just about everything right."
Keuchel said he had the best movement he's had on his two-seam fastball since prior to his injury, and he said his changeup kept the A's off his fastball later in the game.
"Even though they're a young team, sometimes the younger teams, guys that haven't had much experience up here, are the guys that can do the most damage off you," Keuchel said. "I was thankful to make some good pitches and help the guys out once again."
The Astros (75-47) stretched their lead in the American League West to 13 games over the Angels and improved to 18-2 against the A's since July 20, 2016.
Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve hit back-to-back, two-out solo homers off A's starter Sean Manaea (8-8) in the third, and Josh Reddick added a two-out RBI single against his former team in the sixth to push the lead to 3-0. Those were the only runs allowed by Manaea, who gave up six hits in six innings.
• Manaea pleased with bounce-back effort
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Backing each other up: Bregman and Altuve became the eighth set of Astros to hit back-to-back homers when they did it in the third. Bregman hit a 375-foot homer, according to Statcast™, to right field with two outs, and Altuve followed with a 351-foot homer into the Crawford Boxes. This is the first time Altuve has been involved in any of the Astros' back-to-back homers this year.
"As soon as I let go of it, I knew it, I kind of knew it was going to be a bad pitch," Manaea said of Altuve's homer. "He put a good swing on it, and unfortunately it was a home run. It is what it is."
Added Manaea on Bregman's shot: "That was kind of a different story, I guess. I had fallen behind 2-0 and I kind of, in the back of my head, I kind of knew it was going to be a bad pitch. Not a bad pitch, but a bad time to throw a middle fastball behind 2-0. I didn't have that conviction, and it was definitely a mistake pitch. He made me pay for it."
• Bregman stepping up while Correa sidelined
Giles to the rescue:Chris Devenski replaced Keuchel in the eighth and gave up a one-out homer to Matt Joyce to cut the Houston lead to 3-1, followed by a single by Bruce Maxwell. Astros manager A.J. Hinch opted to go to his closer in the eighth for the second time in a week, and Ken Giles got Matt Olson, who represented the tying run, to hit into a 4-5-3 double play to end the threat and the inning.
It was the fifth save of Giles' career of at least 1 1/3 innings, including his two-inning save Sunday against Texas.
"This is crunch time and I've got to be ready to do anything," said Giles, who got his 24th save. "I've got to be ready for two innings, three innings maybe. I'm going to be out there ready to go when he needs me."
"Sinkers, that's what he does. We were having trouble getting the ball in the air, and then he's getting a low strike, it's going to be tough. You try to force yourself to hit the ball the other way and try to get it in the air. But early on you can tell the strike zone was at the low end ... and that benefits him. We had trouble getting it in the air." -- A's manager Bob Melvin, on Keuchel
"When he's on like he is tonight, he's one of the best pitchers in the world, if not the best." -- Bregman, on Keuchel
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Giles threw a 100.7-mph pitch in the eighth, according to Statcast™. That tied for his highest velocity of the season.
Plate umpire Jerry Layne left the game in the seventh inning after a foul ball struck his left hand. He was diagnosed with a left hand contusion, and it will be determined Saturday if he will work the middle game of the series. Second-base umpire Dan Bellino took over behind the plate, and the rest of the game was played with three umpires.
Athletics: Right-hander Kendall Graveman (3-3, 4.70 ERA) will start Saturday (4:10 PT) at Minute Maid Park. Graveman is 2-1 (3.14 ERA) in seven starts vs. the American League West and is 1-1 with a 7.53 ERA in three starts since returning from the DL on Aug. 3.
Astros: Right-hander Collin McHugh (0-2, 4.88 ERA) will take the mound at 6:10 p.m. CT Saturday against the A's. McHugh is still searching for his first win after missing the first 3 1/2 months of the season with an elbow injury. Preview >>
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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.**.
Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston and covered the A's on Friday.