OAKLAND -- The A’s pushed Marco Estrada back a slot in the rotation in order to line him up for a more comfortable start in the spacious grounds of the Oakland Coliseum. There was just one problem -- that start also came against one of the hottest hitting teams in all of baseball.
Estrada ran into the buzzsaw that has been the Houston Astros offense in Tuesday’s 9-1 loss. The right-hander turned in his shortest outing of 2019 as he lasted just 3 1/3 innings and allowed a season-high seven earned runs.
“I was really bad. I brought my worst game to a very good lineup and that’s not going to cut it,” said Estrada, whose outing was also his shortest against Houston in nine career starts. “I can’t go out there missing spots like I did today. That is not going to work against anybody.”
Estrada met the same fate most starters have suffered pitching against the Astros lately. Houston coasted to a Major League-best 10th straight victory, a streak that began when the A’s were swept over three games at Minute Maid Park earlier this month, after pouncing on Estrada early with home runs by George Springer and Josh Reddick in the first two innings. Springer’s solo shot came on a 3-2 pitch to lead off the game.
“They just had him on the run most of the night,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He walked some guys, got in some deep counts and threw a lot of pitches. He just was not throwing them anything off the plate they were chasing.”
Given Estrada’s status as a low-strikeout, flyball pitcher, command is key. He cannot afford to allow free baserunners, but that’s exactly what got him into trouble Tuesday. Estrada issued a leadoff walk to Yuli Gurriel in the fourth and later hit Robinson Chirinos with a pitch to load the bases with only one out. After Estrada followed that up with a walk of Springer that allowed a run to score, Melvin emerged from the dugout and decided to end Estrada’s night early.
Liam Hendriks came on and struck out Jose Altuve for the second out before surrendering a backbreaking grand slam to Alex Bregman, with three of the runs on the slam charged to Estrada.
“It’s one of those days you try to forget about as fast as possible and move on,” Estrada said.
Keeping the ball in the yard has proven to be difficult for Estrada over his first five starts. Tuesday’s start was his third in which he has given up multiple home runs, bringing his total number of homers allowed to seven, tied for most allowed by an American League starter.
Estrada signed a one-year deal with the A’s this offseason with the hope of bouncing back from a rough year that saw him post a career-high 5.64 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s a strategy that worked out well for Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson in 2018 with Oakland. But for Estrada, a 2016 All-Star, the early goings have been more of the same.
He turned in a couple of strong starts at home early in the month, but his back-to-back outings with at least six runs allowed have ballooned his ERA to 6.85 on the year.
While most pitchers are vulnerable in the first inning of a game, Estrada’s kryptonite has been the second. His two runs allowed in the second frame Tuesday brought his total to seven runs he’s now combined to allow in the second inning of his five starts.
Although home runs seem to be Estrada’s main source of frustration right now, getting off to a better start in the early innings is the key Melvin said he believes could get the 12-year veteran back on track.
“Just get a couple of innings where you go 1-2-3 right away and get some momentum,” Melvin said. “It’s not a confidence issue with him. You just need a few innings where you’re rolling and not having to use everything you have to get out of innings.”
Davis extends hit streak
Khris Davis was one of the two A’s hitters who managed to make a dent in the impressive six scoreless innings of two-hit ball turned in by Astros starter Collin McHugh. Davis’ single in the second inning pushed his hit streak to eight games as he is now 11-for-33 over that stretch.
Tip your cap
McHugh played a big role in ending the A’s streak of seven consecutive games in which they had reached double digits in hits as the A’s came up with just four in Tuesday’s loss.
After a solid year as a reliever for Houston in 2018, McHugh is off to a nice year in the rotation. He’s now combined to allow just one run over 12 innings against the A’s in 2019.
“You look at their staff and last year he was pitching out of the bullpen with the same stuff he has right now,” Melvin said. “You look at our numbers across the board against him and around the league, he’s just pretty good. He keeps you off balance and throws very few fastballs in counts where you expect them. He’s tough to think along with and when he’s locating and getting ahead, it’s tough to string hits together.”