HOUSTON -- When a game gets out of hand early, as was the case in the A's opener with the Astros on Monday at Minute Maid Park, the focus of the night for the losing team has to instantly shift from trying to get a win to simply limiting the
HOUSTON -- When a game gets out of hand early, as was the case in the A's opener with the Astros on Monday at Minute Maid Park, the focus of the night for the losing team has to instantly shift from trying to get a win to simply limiting the damage this could cause moving forward.
That was the challenge facing the A's in their 11-1 loss to Houston, a game that was essentially over by the end of the third. Homer Bailey allowed nine runs, didn't retire any of the five batters he faced in his third and final inning and left it up to the bullpen to absorb the final six.
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Under those terms, there was something salvageable from this game for the A's. Right-handed reliever Brian Schlitter picked up the next three innings and, for the most part, prevented the Astros from piling on much more. The A’s ended up needing only one more “real” reliever -- Wei-Chung Wang, who pitched two scoreless frames -- before handing it over to a position player, Nick Martini, to close it out.
“You're covering that many innings of a game, to be able to do it with basically two pitchers, there's some benefit to that,” A's manager Bob Melvin said.
Schlitter yielded two runs, walking one and striking out three in a 52-pitch outing that may help the A's better navigate through their next two games against the team they're chasing in the American League West race. Mike Fiers, who has lasted at least six innings in 11 consecutive starts, is pitching on Tuesday. A strong outing could help turn Monday’s debacle into a mere footnote -- a harmless one -- of a long season.
Schlitter was pressed to duty in the third, tasked with recording three outs in an inning that already had produced five Houston runs. The Astros scored twice off Schlitter on a Yordan Alvarez double and Yuli Gurriel single, but Schlitter settled in well in his final two innings, allowing just one hit.
“I was just happy I could go out there and give three innings, get outs, and save the rest of our bullpen,” Schlitter said. “We still have a few more games here, and they're probably going to be important ones. So it's important that we give some of the guys down there a break.”
Added Bailey: “The biggest thing I take away from it is not picking up innings that the bullpen had to pick up. That's the worst part of it.”
Wang got the A’s through the seventh, and the rest was up to Martini, a left-handed “pitcher” who long ago in the low levels of the Minor Leagues had a brief cameo on the mound.
It didn’t exactly prepare him for the bright lights of his Major League pitching debut on Monday, which also happened to be the same day he was called up from Triple-A Las Vegas to replace left-hander Brett Anderson, who’s on paternity leave for three days.
A position player replacing a pitcher on the roster and then actually pitching? What are the odds?
“Coming here today, I would have said zero percent chance I ever end up on the mound,” Martini said. “Baseball's a crazy game. It has a weird way of working things out.”
Martini’s inning opened with consecutive walks to Josh Reddick and Robinson Chirinos, but he gathered himself in time to get a fly ball from Aledmys Diaz and an infield popup from George Springer. The big finale was a strikeout of Tony Kemp.
“I was a little concerned when he wasn't throwing strikes early,” Melvin said. “But [catcher Josh] Phegley made a great mound visit and picked his velo up by eight or nine miles an hour, and started throwing strikes.”
Added Martini: “After the first couple walks, I thought it was going to be a disaster. Somehow, I got out of it. Big strikeout.”
Martini asked Phegley for the ball as soon as it landed in the catcher’s glove. It was, after all, Martini’s first strikeout as a pitcher.
“The second he caught it, I said, ‘I want that,’" Martini said. “I hope that never happens again, but it was a cool experience.”
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.