Miller electric in 2-inning performance

May 15th, 2024

HOUSTON -- was itching to get into a game again.

Entering Tuesday, the flamethrowing rookie closer had pitched just once for the A’s in their past 11 games, going on nearly a week since his most recent appearance on May 8 against the Rangers.

Given the freshness of his arm, A's manager Mark Kotsay knew Miller was good to go more than one inning if needed. With the game tied heading into the bottom of the eighth, Miller was unleashed.

Facing the top of Houston's lineup, Miller struck out Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Jeremy Peña, sat back down, then came back and struck out two in a 1-2-3 9th. He finished the scoreless two innings with five punchouts on just 29 pitches, 14 of which were fastballs thrown at least 100.5 mph or faster.

The dominant appearance marked Miller’s fourth time going at least two innings this season and his 13th consecutive scoreless outing, extending his career-high scoreless streak to 17 1/3 innings. It helped the A’s take the game into extras, but they ultimately fell to the Astros, 2-1, in 10 innings at Minute Maid Park on Victor Caratini’s walk-off single off Michael Kelly.

Through their surprisingly successful start to the 2024 season, the A’s have developed a formula for winning ballgames: Get a solid outing from the starter, slug their way to a few runs and hand it off to a dominant bullpen.

The middle part of that equation was absent on Tuesday. After five innings of one-run ball from JP Sears, the bullpen trio of Miller, Lucas Erceg and Austin Adams combined for four hitless innings with nine strikeouts. The offense, however, was mostly silenced.

“It’s a tough loss tonight,” Kotsay said. “JP did a great job with his start. It set up the bullpen for our leverage guys and they did a great job. Offensively, we just couldn’t score.”

The A’s had their chances. They failed to add on after Rooker’s one-out, game-tying single in the eighth. In the 10th, Abraham Toro’s flyout set them up with runners at second and third and one out only to see a pinch-hitting Esteury Ruiz strike out before Rooker grounded out to end the threat.

Kotsay doesn’t hide the fact that the A’s are a team that relies heavily on the long ball. Coming into the game, Oakland’s 55 home runs ranked fourth-most in the Majors. When the homers are missing, though, manufacturing runs in other ways becomes a challenge. Going homerless on Tuesday, the A’s are now 2-11 in games without a homer.

It appeared like the A’s may have caught a break when Astros starter Ronel Blanco was ejected just before the start of the fourth inning after umpires inspected his glove and discovered a sticky substance. Following the ejection, however, the A’s struggled to get much going against Houston’s bullpen, including Josh Hader, who held them hitless over the final two innings.

“I don’t think it impacted us,” Kotsay said of Blanco’s ejection. “We had our chance to push across the go-ahead run and couldn’t get it done. … They got three innings out of him and went to their leverage guys in the bullpen.”

Though they remain in third place in the American League West, the A’s are in a bit of a free-fall now having lost eight of their past 10 games. The rough stretch comes on the heels of a season-high six-game win streak. Tuesday’s loss was especially painful in that they used up their top relief options, including Miller for two innings, and still came up short.

“It’s frustrating,” Kotsay said. “We’re more competitive. We’re in games, which are good signs. … To lose one tonight the way we did, this one hurts.”

One positive was Sears’ ability to complete five innings, providing length that the A’s desperately needed with a depleted starting staff that is now down three members from its Opening Day rotation.

It was a grind for Sears, who changed into a new uniform mid-game due to his first one getting drenched in sweat as he labored through the first two innings on 67 pitches. Ultimately, Sears turned in his fifth start this season in which he’s gone at least five innings and allowed one or fewer runs.

“It’s a long season ahead of us,” Sears said. “We were going so well for so long with only five starters, and then it kind of hit us quickly. It takes a team effort. I’m just trying to pick it up for the team and have good starts every time I go out there.”