OAKLAND — It’s not often that a pitcher gets pulled in the middle on a no-hitter, in fact, the last time it happened to an A’s pitcher was Chris Codiroli after 5 ⅓ no-hit innings against the Chicago White Sox on June 27, 1986. But Sean Manaea’s high pitch count and sudden inability to throw strikes forced manager Bob Melvin to pull the plug in Saturday’s 10-6 loss to the Houston Astros.
The A’s jumped to a 5-0 lead after an offensive outburst that featured fifth-inning solo home runs by Trevor Plouffe and Khris Davis, but it all soon began to fall apart.
Manaea had been cruising through five innings as he racked up six strikeouts, but he began the sixth by walking the first three batters to load the bases.
“He just lost his command,” Melvin said. “He was pitching really well getting a lot of swing-and-misses but he just lost control of the strike zone.”
Manaea’s final pitch was a line drive by Carlos Correa that bounced off the glove of shortstop Adam Rosales and into the outfield where the ball rolled under the glove of newcomer Jaff Decker, driving in two runs.
The two errors made on Correa’s liner made it 15 errors in 13 games for the A’s and extended their streak of games in which they have committed an error to nine.
Despite not allowing a hit, Manaea’s five walks ballooned his pitch count to 98 and left Melvin with no choice but to remove him and leave the game in the hands of the bullpen.
Inheriting a dangerous situation in which Houston had already scored twice and was threatening for more with two on and no outs, Ryan Dull was the lone reliever to not allow a run in the game. He loaded the bases but was able to pitch his way out by getting Marwin Gonzalez to ground into a double play to end the inning and preserve the 5-2 lead.
The A’s entered the season holding their bullpen — featuring four former or current big league closers — in high regard as one of very few bright spots on the team. That bright spot failed them.
Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle were the main culprits in a bullpen meltdown that featured a combined eight earned runs given up by five relievers over four innings. Casilla allowed two runs in the seventh and eighth to blow what was a 5-3 lead that he inherited from Liam Hendriks, and Doolittle proceeded to allow a two-run home run to George Springer that put the Astros ahead 8-5 to complete the disastrous performance.
Melvin was mostly frustrated with the large amount of free passes allowed by A’s pitchers. Eight walks and two hit batters turned into five stolen bases for the Astros.
“When you put their guys on base and you’re not quick to the plate, they’re gonna steal bases,” Melvin said. “They make you work and once they get on base they get runners in scoring position.”
Manaea deflected all criticism of the bullpen and placed the blame on himself for the collapse.
“Today was completely on me,” Manaea said. “Everyone is just sitting around and waiting because of long innings. I put the bullpen in a bad situation.”
Starting in center field on his first day up from Triple-A Nashville, Decker found himself right in the middle of a three-run rally in the second inning, hitting an RBI single that drove in Stephen Vogt and extended the A’s lead to 2-0.
Decker carried over his early minor league success at the plate to Oakland. In addition to the RBI, he went 3 for 4 with a triple and a stolen base.
“I felt good at the plate and kept my routine going which I’ve been doing since spring,” Decker said. “I got good pitches to hit and I didn’t miss them.”
Manaea came into the season projected to have a breakout season, but his first three starts have been filled with inconsistency. What started as a promising no-hit bid Saturday turned into his shortest outing of the season.
“It’s a mental thing for me right now,” Manaea said. “And there’s nothing anyone else can do to fix it except for me.”
— MRI results for Marcus Semien showed a bone contusion in his right wrist. Melvin said Semien will get a CT scan on Monday and the club will go from there. He is expected to be out at least a couple of days.
— Khris Davis hit his second home run against the Astros this season after hitting just one against the club all last season. It was his sixth home run of the season, tying Yoenis Cespedes and George Springer for the major league lead.