HOUSTON -- Never mind that A’s slugger Khris Davis had gone 1-for-16 in his career against Astros starter Collin McHugh entering Friday. After all, this is Khris Davis -- last year’s Major League home run leader, who can change the game and the mood of a ballpark with a swing of the bat.
So when Davis -- now 1-for-17 after grounding out weakly in the second inning -- stepped to the plate in the third inning of a scoreless game with the bases loaded, McHugh understood the gravity of the situation. He struck out Davis to keep the A’s off the board, setting him up for six innings of one-run ball in a 3-2 win in the home opener at Minute Maid Park.
“He’s a really dangerous hitter,” said McHugh, who allowed three hits and three walks and struck out four. “We’ve seen what he’s already done early in the season with the homers and extra-base hits, and the damage he’s been able to do. With guys on base there, I know I’ve got to be extra sharp.”
For McHugh, that means making your best pitches of the day. He doesn’t know when that moment comes until it comes, but that wound up being in the at-bat against Davis. McHugh started Davis off with a cutter that was fouled off, before Davis took a pair of fastballs. Then McHugh went to his money pitch -- the slider. He got Davis to swing through it twice for the inning-ending strikeout.
“It was huge,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Any time Davis comes up to bat, I don’t care what the matchup says or how he’s swinging the bat, it’s a dangerous, dangerous at-bat. For him to come through with a big pitch and get the out, it’s a huge shift. We should have been out of the inning a couple of at-bats prior to that. You walk yourself right into a tough at-bat with one of the premier power hitters in the game. He can pop one out of any ballpark. What a huge out.”
The third inning started ominously with a leadoff double by Ramon Laureano, who went 4-for-4. McHugh walked Robbie Grossman with one out and Stephen Piscotty with two outs to load the bases for Davis -- the slugger entered the game with five homers already. Gulp.
“The game kind of hangs in the balance,” McHugh said. “There weren’t a lot of runs scored, weren’t a lot of hits around the yard. You know that runs were going to be at a premium. Frankie [Montas] threw the ball well for them, and for me, it’s a matter of holding the line as long as you possibly can and letting these guys do what they do best, and that’s to go out there and produce.”
Davis lamented missing the slider down.
“Usually in that situation you try your best to get a good pitch, and I didn’t get it,” Davis said. “I missed mine.”
The Astros’ offense didn’t exactly break out, but a clutch two-out single by Alex Bregman in the third put them ahead, and Carlos Correa’s first homer of the season later broke a 1-1 tie. Jose Altuve ripped an RBI double in the seventh to stretch Houston’s lead to 3-1 after McHugh (1-1) sent down nine of the final 10 batters he faced.
“AJ asked me how I was doing before I went out for the fifth, and I said I was feeling good,” McHugh said. “He said, ‘Alright, these last two innings, go out there and empty the tank.’ When you hear that from a manager, it’s good to have that reminder, ‘OK, I might have 30 pitches left,’ and go out there and make the most of them.”