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McCullers battles control problems in loss to A's

After issuing just 2 free passes in last 14 innings, righty walks 5 batters, hits 2
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. was stung for six runs in a short outing Wednesday against the A's, marking the most runs he has allowed in a start at Minute Maid Park. The Astros couldn't climb out of the early hole and lost to the A's, 8-3, for a second time in this four-game series.

"It kind of sucks," McCullers said. "But it happens."

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HOUSTON -- Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. was stung for six runs in a short outing Wednesday against the A's, marking the most runs he has allowed in a start at Minute Maid Park. The Astros couldn't climb out of the early hole and lost to the A's, 8-3, for a second time in this four-game series.

"It kind of sucks," McCullers said. "But it happens."

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McCullers, who allowed just one run in his past two starts (14 innings), was saddled with his first loss since May 26. He walked five batters and hit two in four-plus innings, marking his shortest start since April 11.

The Astros had won all of McCullers' past seven starts prior to Wednesday's outing, which raised his ERA from 3.41 to 3.77.

"I really saw him kind of not having it from the very beginning [with] the walks, the hit by pitches," said Astros manager AJ Hinch. "You could tell he was battling himself. He just didn't have it. Kind of just had a bad night."

The Astros' offense got a spark in the fourth inning. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve tallied the Astros' first two hits off A's starter Chris Bassitt and later scored on a two-run single by Yuli Gurriel, who improved his American League-best average with runners in scoring position to .429.

Video: OAK@HOU: Gurriel smacks a two-run single into right

Altuve's singled marked his 19th consecutive start with a hit at Minute Maid Park, which is the longest streak by an Astros hitter in the stadium's history.

The Astros picked up another run in the fifth inning, when Tyler White mashed his first home run of the season. White's long ball also marked his first RBI of 2018.

Video: OAK@HOU: White slugs his 1st home run of the season

Despite the loss, the Astros have won seven of their last nine games.

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
McCullers made his share of mistakes, but the three-run home run he gave up to Chad Pinder in the fourth inning was the most glaring. McCullers hit Matt Chapman with a pitch to lead off the inning, then walked Mark Canha, setting the table for Pinder, whose long ball gave the A's a six-run lead.

"I had a long road ahead of me, and I wish I would've made a better pitch to Pinder," McCullers said. "I thought I could have maybe squeezed five or six [innings] out and given us a better chance to win, but it wasn't in the cards tonight."

RELIEVER PEREZ MAKES DEBUT
Hours after joining the Astros for his second stint with the team, Cionel Perez made his Major League debut, allowing one run in 1 2/3 innings in relief, with two K's. At 22 years and 81 days old, Perez became the youngest Cuban-born pitcher to make his debut since Jose Fernandez debuted at 20 years and 250 days old for the Marlins on April 7, 2013.

"It was a dream come true for me," Perez said. "I controlled my nerves very well during that outing. I tried to release all my nerves on that first pitch."

Video: OAK@HOU: Perez fans Davis to notch 1st career K

"I was so excited," Hinch said. "What a great kid and also a nice story. … This guy woke up in Midland, Texas, today and had no idea what was going on. Midday gets kind of rallied by [Double-A Corpus Christi manager] Omar Lopez to go get his stuff and get on a plane. Gets here at 6:30. Greets his teammates during the first or second inning, whatever time it was, and runs down to the bullpen and ends up in his first Major League game. Obviously we wish it would've been a cleaner game and a win, but there's only one first day for him."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In his fifth game with the Astros, left fielder Kyle Tucker rifled a 92.6-mph bullet to home plate for his first outfield assist in the fifth inning.

Video: OAK@HOU: Tucker throws out Piscotty at the plate

UP NEXT
The Astros will send Charlie Morton to the bump for Thursday's 1:10 p.m. CT finale against the A's at Minute Maid Park, which can be viewed on MLB Network. Oakland will counter with right-hander Trevor Cahill (1-2, 2.77 ERA). With a win Thursday, Morton (11-2, 2.83 ERA) would become the first Astros pitcher to reach 12 wins before the All-Star break since Roy Oswalt in 2005.

Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr.