HOUSTON – Jaff Decker hasn’t been hitting a lick, and didn’t again Saturday. But without him, Andrew Triggs and the A’s probably wouldn’t have scored a 2-1 victory over Houston.
The win that ended a five-game A’s losing streak and came with Triggs throwing seven shutout innings to run his numbers to 4-1 and 1.84. He was aided in large measure to solo homers from Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis.
But it was Decker, getting a rare start in right field, who opened eyes and shut down the Astros in the fourth inning when Carlos Beltran tried to tag up and go from second to third on a deep fly. Decker backtracked, got a nice running start and blistered the ball to Trevor Plouffe at third to apply the tag.
“With the way Triggs was throwing, doing what he was doing, it’s our job to help him out any way we can,” Decker said. “If that guy gets to third base, it’s maybe an easy sacrifice fly. But I knew I had a good shot at him, and Plouffe made a nice play.
“Before the play started, I wanted the ball to be hit toward me, especially because of the way thing have been going at the plate. You want to contribute.”
Triggs was properly grateful for the homers from Lowrie in the fourth and Davis in the eighth. But he took time to single out the Decker throw.
“Those are some high-stress innings, and the guys made some plays to help me get out of it,” Triggs said. “It was kind of a breath of fresh air.”
Of course, Decker’s catch and throw were just two of 21 outs Triggs needed in his seven innings. He did his part with a career-best nine strikeouts and hold left-handed hitters down to one hit in seven at-bats. Last year lefties hit a combined .277 against him but this year it’s down to an unbelievable .088, 4.for-45.
He’s a right-handed sidearm pitcher, and traditionally left-handed hitters feast on those pitchers. Triggs has worked hard to make sure that’s going to be a tougher task this time around.
“It’s good pitch mix, I think,” Triggs said, crediting the catchers he works with. “They’ve done such a good job of keeping the sequences unpredictable. I know if you command the pitches you are going to get guys out. I know the stereotype is that when you throw from the angle I do you’re going to usually struggle against lefties. I’ve been aware of it and I’ve been working on it.”
Triggs wasn’t supposed to be ranked among the best in the league in wins and ERA seeing as he was expected to make the team as perhaps the fifth starter out of spring training. But injuries and happenstance have been his to capitalize upon.
“To pitch as well as he did, to go through the lineup three times and to give us seven innings of work, that’s pretty good,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s had one off outing and everything else has been pretty spotless.
“His arm angle when he is throwing strikes is difficult. And if you look at his numbers against left-handers, his numbers against lefties this year are as good as any right-handed starter in the league. And that’s the one area of concern coming in, based on his body of work over his career. But the ball is moving. When he throws 91 (mph), it looks like 94.”
The A’s, now 11-13, can climb back to within three games of the division leaders with a win in the Sunday series finale.
Melvin made a defensive move that he generally doesn’t make, subbing strong-armed catcher Josh Phegley in for the last couple of innings over starter Stephen Vogt. Afterward, the manager said the move was about trying to control Houston’s powerful running game in a close contest.
Khris Davis’ homer went out on a line to right field, an opposite field shot for his 10th homer. That ties Aaron Judge for the AL lead, the Yankees’ slugger having gone deep earlier in the day.
Sean Manaea probably will not land on the 10-day disabled list as the A’s once feared he might. Manaea threw on the side before Saturday’s game and came out of it feeling good enough that the A’s are backing off DL thoughts. “I’m feeling great right now,” Manaea said. “I feel like I’m ready to go out there and face hitters.” Manager Bob Melvin said the A’s are in a “wait and see” mode.
Jesse Hahn said he’s been able to recapture his 2015 mindset when pitching and feels more in control on the mound. “I’ve got a clean mindset going now,” Hahn said as he takes a streak of three consecutive quality starts into Sunday’s game against the Astros. “I struggled with that last year.”
Matt Joyce (toe) and Adam Rosales (finger) weren’t in the starting lineup for Oakland after being hit by pitches Friday. Rosales did enter the game late to play defense and turned in an important out on the first ball hit to him.
Raul Alcantara, who’d been placed on the designated for assignment list earlier in the week, cleared waivers, which surprised the A’s a little, and was sent to Triple-A Nashville. Melvin said “we thought that there was a pretty good chance that we’d end up losing him. But it’s nice that we have him back. He’s struggled a bit at the big league level, but it’s good to have him back. We’ll need a lot of starting pitching depth over the course of the season.
Early in the day, Rosales and Vogt went into the Houston suburbs to one of the Sandlot Nation gatherings Rosales is organizing to encourage youth baseball.
Daniel Mengden threw 30 pitches in batting practice Saturday in the club’s extended spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz. as he rebounds from his right foot surgery earlier this year.
Felix Doubront, who had Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery 12 months ago, threw two innings in a simulated game in Arizona. The A’s are hoping the lefty will be healthy enough to join the bullpen in a month or two.
Chris Bassitt, another pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, threw in San Jose for Stockton Saturday night and was impressive, The right-hander gave up one hit and one walk while striking out three in three innings for the Ports.
Rajai Davis, on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain, continues to run without pain and Oakland expects to have him back on the roster Tuesday in Minnesota. Melvin said the A’s offense has been a little one-dimensional without Davis’ speed in the lineup.
Second baseman Joey Wendle, who started the season on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder, came off the DL Saturday after a six-game injury rehabilitation assignment with Nashville and the A’s optioned him to the Sounds. During the rehab he hit .364 with two doubles, a triple and three RBI.