Inside Pitch: A’s come just short of sweeping Astros

With a 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday the Oakland Athletics again failed to finish a three-games sweep at home.

In victories on Friday and Saturday, though, the A’s (13-12) were the happy recipients of fantastic debut starts. Lasting five innings in his long-awaited major-league debut, Sean Manaea gave a glimpse of the star he could become, while Jesse Hahn made a nearly untouchable season debut.

Despite losing game three in frustrating fashion, the green and gold claimed the series win, now back-to-back and regained momentum lost in Detroit and Toronto.

Fastball (Team strength): Starting pitching

The bullpen was once again brilliant, allowing only six hits and no runs in the series. In this series, however, they were forced to pitch only 9-2/3 innings despite the limited pitch counts of the duo of debuting youngsters.

Rich Hill (3-3, 2.53 ERA), who suffered the series’ sole loss for the A’s, allowed just two hits over six innings. Hahn (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was just as tough, serving up just three hits over 6-2/3 frames of shutout ball.

Of Hahn’s performance, manager Bob Melvin said “that’s the best we’ve seen him,” adding that his dominance stemmed from confidence:

“When you’re throwing 96-97 miles per hour, you can feel pretty good about being aggressive. Then the movement on top of it. You’ve got to take the confidence with you and start being aggressive with it. Once you start picking and pitching around. now you’ve got runners on base and you have to make pitches.”

Aggression is something Manaea ((0-0, 7.20 ERA) was lacking, understandably, in his first big league start. Melvin was impressed by his outing nonetheless.

 

Changeup (Top individual performer): Yonder Alonso

Through the first two weeks of the season, Alonso (.187/.238/.267 2016 slash) had been all but a bust, offensively. During the past 10-game road trip, though, the first baseman began to put together solid at-bats. And late Friday night, his production came to life in a big way.

After lining a single to right in the fifth, he came up in the ninth with the winning run at third and one out. Looking for a fly ball into the outfield to score the pinch-running Tyler Ladendorf (0-for-2 with a run scored in 2016), Alonso instead sent a 1-0 sinker into the right field seats for his first homer as an Athletic, and first walkoff of his career (fifth season).

After the game Alonso said

“We’ve been doing some work. The hitting coaches, and everybody, have been very supportive. Just doing a little bit of extra work to get to try to get back to doing what I know I can do, and what they know I can do.”

Melvin he had been impressed with Alonso prior to the performance, despite his lack of production, saying it was a matter of time before the hits began to come.

In all, Alonso collected four hits in 10 at-bats in the series. The only A’s hitter to get an at-bat in the series without leaving a runner on base, the off-season acquisition doubled his RBI total and added 33 points onto his batting average in the three-game set.

 

Curveball (Surprise of the series): Sweep-less streak

With Sunday’s loss, Oakland was once again forced to stow away their brooms. The last home sweep of three or more games came nearly two years ago — July 3-6, 2014 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Over those 22 sweep-less months the A’s have played in 39 home series of three-plus games.

 

Sinker (Team weakness): Hitting with runners in scoring position

With one big Alonso swing, and utter dominance from Hahn, The A’s won around poor run-producing at-bats.

Going 4-for-18 (.222) with runners in scoring position in the series, the Oakland offense left a total of 17 runners on base while scoring just 10 runs. The worst of the performances came, as to be expected, in Oakland’s only loss of the set, leaving eight on base.

After the loss, Melvin expressed his frustration:

“We had some opportunities, if someone gets a big hit. You only give up two runs, and two hits, you have an opportunity to get back in the game. We just weren’t able to do it.”

 

Slider (Poor performing individual): Josh Reddick

Batting in the coveted three-hole, Reddick (.261/.330/.435) has been one of the A’s most productive hitters through the season’s first month. Against the Astros, though, the right fielder picked up just two hits in 12 trips to the plate (.167), while leaving a team-high five runners on base.

Reddick, who has been at the center of the offense since he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in 2012, has seen his struggles in more than just his team’s past three games. While batting .319 with home runs and six RBIs in 12 games away from home, he has batted just .200 with one homer and six RBIs in 13 games in Oakland.

Reddick and his offensive mates will look to heat up in clutch at-bats, while the pitching continues its hot stretch when they open a three-game set with the Seattle Mariners (13-11) Monday night at the Coliseum.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.