Astros catch up to Manaea, continue A’s ownage

Facing a pitcher who has had their number, Houston waited patiently for the opportunity to strike. All the while, Mike Fiers held the Oakland Athletics in check, and the Astros finally broke through for a 5-1 win Wednesday.

Through five, Sean Manaea looked to be coasting to another solid start versus Houston, but a three-run sixth was all the Astros (49-24) needed, and the A’s (31-41) are in jeopardy of splitting an eight-game home stand after sweeping the first four.

This story will be updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Manager Bob Melvin said that this loss cannot be put entirely on the shoulders of his starter:

“You only get four hits, and you score one run, you’re not giving him much of a chance. It’s not like he pitched poorly.”

He and Manaea (L, 6-4, 4.05 ERA) did not see eye-to-eye on that, though:

“This loss is completely on me. It’s something that — there’s a lot of things I need to get better at, and it’s definitely one of them to keep my emotions in check and finishing off hitters.”

Since surrendering four runs to the Astros over 4 innings in his major league debut last April, Manaea has put one of the American League’s most potent offenses in his back pocket. He entered Wednesday’s tilt having mowed through them, allowing a single earned run in 22-1/3 frames.

But Wednesday night’s contest presented his worst outing against Houston since his A’s foray.

As has been the case this year for the Oakland pitching staff, Manaea looked overwhelming for the majority of the evening, but one blink unraveled into a three-run inning, and that was too much for his offense to overcome.

The big lefty did pay tribute to the Astros, whose offense tops the AL in runs (391), hits (692), home runs (114) and batting average (.279):

“They’re unbelievable. One through nine, you don’t catch any breaks. They’ve got power, they’ve got speed.”

Through five, Manaea had recorded more strikeouts (5) than he had allowed baserunners (4), but that all fell in his lap in the sixth.

He said:

“I was getting ahead of hitters more and getting guys out with my changeup. The slider was — I couldn’t really throw it for a strike tonight.”

After falling behind 3-0 to perennial All-Star Jose Altuve, he battled back to 3-2 only to have a fastball away lined into right for a single, his third hit allowed of the night. He then fell behind Carlos Correa, who had struck out and grounded out in two trips, before the shortstop poked a 2-0 challenge fastball up the middle for a single.

Manaea said the problems stemmed from his sudden inability to get ahead in counts:

“Getting behind hitters — getting into hitters counts — things kinda snowballed, and I didn’t do a good job of containing things.”

Manaea didn’t get any help from rookie center fielder Jaycob Brugman, who winged an ill-advised throw to third in an attempt to get one of baseball’s speediest base runners, Altuve. In the end, Ryon Healy never attempted a tag on the runner, and Correa was able to move to second on the throw.

Evan Gattis followed with a bloop single to center, and both Astro middle infielders scampered home.

Brugman’s throw may have been of no consequence as Yuli Gurriel sent a one-out liner into center. Two batters later Jake Marisnick picked up an RBI line-drive of his own.

Both hits came in 0-2 counts. And both pitches hit were fastballs nearly center-cut in the strike zone following swing-and-miss changeups. Manaea said that while he continues to trust his stuff, his slider was not there for him leaving him with the choice between trying to overpower good hitters, or back up his changeup. He chose the former twice in the sixth and was burnt both times.

The skipper said that the sixth was the product of his command, and a Houston offense always ready to attack:

“They just got on him a little bit that one inning, made him work — probably not as good with his command that inning. … They’re pretty good about being timely when they get their hits and they were off him.”

He ended the inning striking out Nori Aoki, giving him three on the inning and eight for the evening, but the damage was done.

Fiers (W, 5-2, 3.81 ERA) made the three runs of support stand up, allowing one, on a Stephen Vogt pinch-hit RBI ground-out in the seventh, in 6-plus innings. The A’s could muster just three hits while he walked three and struck out five.

Said Melvin:

“He’s got a lot of pitches, there’s a lot of deception involved — he can throw your timing off a little bit, whit his delivery — and he was good. He didn’t throw too many balls in the middle of the plate. … When he’s throwing strikes, and he’s got good command, he’s tough to deal with.”

Houston didn’t let the lone Oakland run go unanswered, though, adding runs in the eighth, on a Marisnick sacrigice fly, and ninth, on a long solo homer (14) to center by Correa.

The A’s went quietly into the night, getting their fourth hit of the night off closer Ken Giles (S, 18, 3.49 ERA) who shut the door with a strikeout of Brugman.

Having now given up just eight earned runs in 32-1/3 innings (2.37 ERA) Manaea remains winless, falling to 0-2.

On deck

The A’s finish their series with the Astros in a Thursday afternoon tilt. After sweeping four from the Yankees to open this eight-game homestand, Oakland will need a win to claim a winning record. Getting the starting assignments in the scorcher will be Jesse Hahn (3-4, 3.56 ERA) and David Paulino (1-0, 5.03 ERA).

Notes

Outfielder Ryan LaMarre, who was placed on waivers Saturday when the A’s selected the contract of relief pitcher Michael Brady, cleared waivers and was released by the team Wednesday. He went 0-for-7 in three games in Oakland this season. … The A’s have now lost 14 of their last 15 games against the Astros. … Stephen Vogt was used as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh, collecting an RBI on a ground-out. He was left in the game to play left field. It was his fourth career game in left and first since July 2, 2014. Manager Bob Melvin said:

“I thought he handled every ball pretty well. …kinda gave me an option, we could have done something a little differently but if we got down there we wanted another left-handed bat in the lineup.”


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