OAKLAND -- Sunday’s series finale against the Astros presented the A’s with a chance to conquer some demons by sweeping the American League West kings over four games for the first time since 2017.
It wasn’t going to be easy, with Brett Anderson taking the mound against Houston’s prize of the 2019 Trade Deadline in Zack Greinke. Anderson did his best to keep up, but his uncharacteristic inability to consistently throw strikes caught up with him, while A’s bats went cold against Greinke in a 4-1 loss at the Coliseum.
The loss moves Oakland to 7 1/2 games back of Houston for first place in the AL West and 1 1/2 back of the Rays for the second AL Wild Card.
Anderson relied heavily on his slider to get out of some tight jams through four scoreless innings. Using it as his strikeout pitch to end the first and fourth, the left-hander tried to get it by Alex Bregman with two outs in the fifth. Bregman took the first one for a called strike two, but on an 0-2 count, he blasted the slider over the wall in left for a go-ahead three-run homer.
“I had the potential to get out of a jam there and I tried too hard to make a perfect pitch,” Anderson said. “Instead of going down and in, it slid into his barrel. I knew he hit it hard, I was just hoping it wouldn’t get out.”
What will likely leave Anderson more upset with himself were the four walks he issued, marking just the fourth time he’s surrendered more than two free passes in an outing over 25 starts this season.
Anderson departed in the middle of an at-bat in the sixth, holding a 3-2 count against Robinson Chirinos, with a run already in on a double by Yuli Gurriel. The left-hander was bothered by a blister on his left hand, which may have attributed to him throwing only 48 of his 83 pitches for strikes.
Anderson said the blister shouldn’t cause him to miss his next start. He also didn’t use it as an excuse for his four runs allowed on seven hits, saying it all came down to one bad slider.
“I got a little bit of a blister, but the biggest story is I threw a horrible pitch to Bregman,” Anderson said. “Stuff wasn’t very good, command wasn’t very good, but I got out of some jams early.”
Anderson has run into some tough matchups as of late. He was also narrowly outdueled by Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on Tuesday, now making it two unsuccessful attempts at matching a career-high win total of 11.
“Last couple of starts with Bumgarner and Greinke, you’re not necessarily pitching against them, but you know the room for error is slim,” Anderson said. “I haven’t made the big pitch when I needed to.”
A’s cant solve Greinke
Even if Anderson were able to make that big pitch, it may not have mattered.
A’s hitters struggled to solve the puzzle on the mound that was Greinke, who allowed just one run on four hits and three walks while striking out six over seven innings.
Marcus Semien gave the A’s the lead by blasting a leadoff homer in the fourth on a fastball left in the zone, but that was really the only mistake made by the right-hander.
“It’s not his velocity. He does it a little bit differently than a lot of premier starters,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He paints with his fastball. His changeup is almost the same speed as his fastball, yet it dives off the table and goes straight down. Curveball for chase, curveball for strike, sliders to the right-handers, he really doesn’t give you a whole lot to hit.”
It all came full circle for Greinke. After making his MLB debut in Oakland on May 22, 2004, it was that same Coliseum where he notched his 200th career win on Sunday afternoon.
“He’s a Hall of Famer in my book,” said Anderson, Greinke’s teammate with the Dodgers in 2015. “He can throw anything in any count. His range is anything from like 66-92 mph, which is incredible. Early on, he pitched with mid-90s velocity, and as he’s gotten older, he’s refined his pitches. He’s an uncomfortable at-bat.”