Saturday, April 30, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk - G24: Astros in Oakland

Chris Devenski (0-0, 0.66) versus Jesse Hahn (0-0, 0.00)

After last nights' game, where the Astros blew the save, TOOTBLAN-ed their way to a scoreless top of the ninth, then lost on a walk-off home run, they continued their underwhelming start to the season with a 2-0 loss to the A's, who seem to have started to play well.

This was a pretty well-played ballgame, with strong pitching from both sides on exhibition.  The conditions may have been a little tough, with a stiff breeze blowing in from left field, across the mound.  The Astros were simply outplayed - they were pitched tough, and the A's capitalised on their best opportunity to score the decisive runs in the game with one swing of the bat.  And this is what worries me about the Astros this year - they have played poorly in losing far too many games this year that games like this (when they are just shut down by a team that executes well) take on more importance, adding to the loss column in a way that the Astros cannot afford at the moment.  And there will be many more games when they are simply outplayed going forward, so the losses when they beat themselves will be doubly crippling in the future - and let's face it, there are quite a few of them.

This loss ties them with the Twins (who they play in the next series) for the worst record in the AL at 7-17.  To put that into perspective, the Astros were 9-19 for April 2014, 8-19 in April 2013, 9-14 in April 2012, 10-17 in April 2011, 8-14 in April 2010, 9-13 in April 2009, 13-16 in April 2008, 10-14 in April 2007, 16-8 in April 2006, and 9-13 in April 2005.  So this looks like the worst opening month in over a decade for a team that was widely tipped to make it deep into the post-season.

Man, this ain't good.  Read on if you are interested in how this all went down...

On the Mound:
Chris Devenski made his major-league starting debut with the Astros, and for the most part, did well. Those familiar with Devenski's action would be aware that he has a notable step to the first-base side of the rubber with his pitching motion.  I wonder whether that became problematic in the second frame - the one in which he struggled - because he started to have control issues, and all of his pitches seemed to be missing glove-side.  Remember that the wind was also blowing in from LF, and it was easily observed that dust was billowing off the mound at times, so one would think that the wind may have been affecting the pitcher, and perhaps resulting in Devenski falling more to the first-base side than intended, resulting in the glove-side misses.

Jed Lowrie singled in the first, but didn't advance as Devenski bounced back to strike out Josh Roddick and Khris Davis, both on full counts.  In the second, Devenski retired the first two hitters on seven pitches, then allowed a Yonder Alonso double on a ground-ball to the right side.  The ball was smoked hard at Tyler White, who crouched to make the play, but the ball bounced off his glove and ended up drifting down toward the bullpen in the RF foul territory.  Springer had trouble getting a handle on the ball, but happily Alonso missed the sign from Ron Washington that suggested he advanced to third, and pulled up at second instead.  White could have fielded the grounder, but perhaps the ball kicked up a little off the infield dirt, and the reaction time would have been short.  If White had fielded it cleanly, the side would have been retired, and the A's and Astros may still have been fighting out a scoreless ballgame.

Anyhow, Devenski then struggled mightily with his control.  He walked catcher Josh Phegley on five pitches, walked Marcus Semien on a full count to load the bases, then allowed a Billy Burns slash the other way into LF, which scored the two lead runners.  It wasn't a good pitch - a fastball elevated and over the plate - the pitch was intended to crowd Burns, but leaked over the plate.  Burns in a filthy slasher, and he was granted enough room to get the barrel on it, and hit a line-drive the other way.  The bases were re-loaded when Jed Lowrie walked, but Josh Reddick ended the frame by flying out to RF on the first pitch.  He slammed his bat in disgust immediately after popping up, arguably showing up the pitcher.

Devenski was sitting north of 50 pitches through two innings, but he settled down nicely from there.  The A's were retired in order in the third (on 10 pitches), and Devenski worked around a one out double and single in the fourth (bad baserunning from the A's meant that the runner didn't score from second on a single) to record another scoreless frame.  He retired the side in the fifth, and as the Chron noted, all five batters that he faced the third time through the order, he retired.

Devenski looked pretty good.  He pitched off a low-90's fastball, but leaned heavily on his breaking pitch more than his changeup.  Not the worst effort, but that loss of control in the second frame loomed mighty big.  Perhaps the wind was a factor.

Also looming mighty big was Scott Feldman's relief appearance.  Feldman took the mound opening the sixth, and he scythed through the A's, needing 34 pitches to complete three perfect innings.  He struck out three, and the radio guys made multiple comments on how aggressive he was in pursuing the hitters early with all of his offerings.  Feldman may be someone who would benefit from shorter outings, so the move to the bullpen may be the best thing for him and the Astros.

At the Plate:
The Astros lineup had Luis Valbeuna start at third base, with Preston Tucker behind him in left field and Colby Rasmus sliding over to CF.  Apparently, Carlos Gómez hurt his ribcage in the ill-fated dive during the top of the ninth yesterday, although the Constable has another theory.  With two x-rays in the last few days (one on his ribs, one on his wrist), he is probably more radiation than man at the moment, which looks good for a possible Hulk-like renaissance.

Anyhow, Jesse Hahn was plenty good.  He went after the Astros with mid-90's gas and a 12-6 hammer curve mixing in a couple of other pitches at the same time.  He was ably assisted with two double-plays - the first of which allowed him to face the minimum in the first, after a Springer walk.  The Astros went in order in the second, and were victimised by a double play in an 8 pitch third, erasing a Preston Tucker (1-3) single after a six-pitch at-bat.

The Astros were also retired in order in the fourth and fifth, with a 12 pitch inning and an 8-pitch recorded respectively.  A two-out Jason Castro (1-3) single punctuated the sixth, before Hahn again blew-up Jose Altuve inside to end the frame.  The A's have effectively managed Altuve this series by running fastballs in on the hands, and Altuve has had trouble laying off those pitches.

Carlos Correa doubled with one out in the seventh, and was grounded over to third for the second out.    With Correa on third, Evan Gattis walked, then Hahn was pulled after 81 pitches in favour of John Axford, who enticed Tyler White (0-3) into a foul pop-up for the last out.  Axford pitched a perfect eighth (retiring the side on nine pitches) before Ryan Madson relieved, and gifted the Astros their best scoring opportunity.

So Madson opened the frame in the ninth by walked José Altuve (0-3, BB) on a full count.  George Springer (0-3, BB) followed with a swinging strikeout for the first out, then Carlos Correa (1-3, 2B, BB) put the game-tying run on first with another walk.  What followed was an awesome battle between Colby Rasmus (1-4, and who has been cold on this road trip) and Ryan Madson, with ended with a bloop into CF that dropped between an in-charging Billy Burns, and an out-ranging Marcus Semien.  On the bloop, some great baserunning from the Astros, as it would have been easy for either Correa or Altuve to have been forced at second or third respectively if they didn't read the situation well enough, but neither was challenged as they advanced ninety feet each.

So that loaded the bases for Evan Gattis (0-3, BB), and on the second pitch of his at-bat, he obliged by grounding into a perfect 5-4-3 twin killing, ending the game.  That was the third double-play of the night, and it just seems that anything hard and down in the zone will result in a pulled grounder to the left side for Gattis at the moment.  He has been finding a few holes on that side recently, but not today, as the game ended on a double play with the bases loaded, resulting in a shutout of the Astros.  Sigh.

Turning Point:
In a well-pitched ballgame, a temporary loss of command and control - as Devenski had in the second inning - can be fatal.  If you don't like that as an explanation, then please feel free to choose Evan Gattis' GIDP with the game-tying runner in scoring position instead.  Either will do.

Man of the Match:
Scott Feldman, who mowed down the A's in three innings, and may have accidentally cemented his place in the bullpen in doing so.

Goat of the Game:
How about Luis Valbeuna, and his homer-less .183/.290/.250 triple-slash??

On the Morrow:
The Astros look to turn a page in the calendar and turn a page on their season by sending Doug Fister (1-3, 5.56) to the mound, opposed by Rich Hill for the A's (3-2, 2.42).

4 Eastern, 3 Central.  Another day game.  Then the Astros head home for a series against the Twins.