Cole outduels Mengden, Astros shove A’s back below .500

Facing Gerrit Cole for the second time in 11 days, the Athletics were able to escape a monster strikeout total Wednesday afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum.

The A’s (18-19), who struck out 12 times the last time they faced the big right-hander, struck out nine times in six innings facing Cole (W, 4-1, 1.43 ERA) this time around. But putting the ball in play didn’t help their cause as Oakland could muster just a single run, falling to the Astros (24-15) 4-1.

After sweeping three games from the Baltimore Orioles to open the home stand, the A’s could do nothing more than split the six games to depart Oakland one game below .500, where they arrived one week ago. The loss also pushes the A’s to 9-17 against American League West opponents.

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

Daniel Mengden got the starting nod facing the first-year Astro and said he knew before ever throwing a pitch that it would be on him to hold down Houston’s explosive offense:

“Going in, I knew it was going to be a tight game. … My job is, try to stay as long as I can in the game and give us a chance to win.”

The afternoon took a quick turn sideways after a strong start in the seventh for Mengden (L, 2-4, 4.06 ERA). In a matter of five pitches, a 1-0 lead, two-out, none-on situation turned into a 2-1 deficit and a mid-inning departure for the Oakland starter.

Mengden, a Houston native, came into Wednesday’s game carrying an 0-3 record and 7.23 ERA in head-to-head matchups with his hometown club. In his five previous starts against the Astros, Mengden had never surrendered fewer than three runs, and never lasted more than six innings.

He torched both of those numbers, giving up two runs in 6-2/3.

Mengden, who struck out four while scattering six hits without issuing a walk, said command was the key to his best start against the Astros:

“Moral of the story the first time was, I just didn’t throw strikes. … Today, I thought I was throwing the fastball in really well, establishing that early, and staying in control from there.”

And it looked as if things were setting up for Mengden to claim his first win over the AL West rivals. After coaxing weak contact from the first two men he faced in the seventh, pushing his string of batters set down to eight consecutively, former A’s minor league Max Stassi handed Mengden his first run allowed of the afternoon, launching a solo homer (3) the other way.

Four pitches later, Derek Fisher made it back-to-back pulverizing a solo homer (4) of his own into the second deck in straight-away center.

The two big swings tattered an otherwise superb start for Mengden. But Manager Bob Melvin said, such is the case when facing a pitcher like Cole:

“When you’re in a game like that, with very little room for error, one or two swings can beat you and that’s what happened. [Mengden] was cruising along nicely, though, against a really good lineup.”

Houston’s outburst came after the Oakland offense had finally reached the scoreboard against Cole, scoring the game’s first run on an RBI double by Jed Lowrie. The A’s left a pair of runners stranded, however, pushing their game total to five where it stayed for the afternoon.

Mengden had everything working. At no point in the afternoon was that on greater display than in a sixth-inning at-bat against the reigning AL MVP José Altuve.

After missing with a slider, Mengden got back into the count facing the three-time batting champ with a 70-mph hook, leaving Altuve to take it with all his weight on the front foot. He backed up the near-ephus with an 81-mph changeup, getting strike two on a rare lunging swing. Mengden then blew away the career .317 hitter, who had doubled in each of his first two at-bats, with 93 at the letters.

But all that effectiveness and hard work went out the window on pitches 88, a 94-mph fastball down the middle at Stassi’s mid-thigh, and 93, a 93-mph heater down the middle at Fisher’s belt.

Said Mengden:

“Everything was going really well. Even the pitches they hit out were decent, the pitches we wanted — maybe not the exact location. That’s just baseball.”

Houston put two insurance runs on the board in the eighth, on a double by Yuli Gurriel.

Those runs were tallied to the record of Yusmeiro Petit (0-0, 4.66 ERA) who has now allowed six earned runs in his past six appearances (five innings, 10.80 ERA). He had allowed four in his previous 14-1/3 innings (2.51 ERA).

Ken Giles (S, 5, 4.38 ERA) got his second save in as many days, working a perfect ninth.

On Deck

The A’s embark on a three-city, 10-game tour of the AL East following a Thursday travel-day. They begin the road trip in New York, facing the Yankees (25-10) who will start Sonny Gray (2-2, 6.00 ERA) on Friday. This will be the first start against the A’s for the former Oakland ace. Melvin has not announced a starter for his A’s, saying after Wednesday’s game that the decision has not yet been made.

Notes

Prior to the game, Trevor Cahill (right elbow ligament impingement) was placed on the 10-disabled list, retroactive to May 5. Manager Bob Melvin said that the move is mostly precautionary, given Cahill’s recent injury history and the discomfort coming in the early season. He expects Cahill to be 100 percent after missing 10 days and two starts. … To fill Cahill’s roster spot the A’s recalled outfielder Dustin Fowler, the club’s No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Fowler, who came to Oakland in a trade with the Yankees last season, is slashing .310/.333/.484 with three homers and eight stolen bases in 30 games with Triple-A Nashville this season. Melvin said that Fowler, who the club targets as the center fielder of the future, will be in center field. … Fowler arrived in Oakland Wednesday after the first pitch and took his first big league at-bat pinch-hitting in the seventh. He lined out softly to second. … Stephen Piscotty, whose mother died Sunday will be placed on bereavement leave while the A’s are in New York and will meet the club in Boston prior to its three-game set with the Red Sox. The roster move is yet to be made.


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.