HOUSTON — Sonny Gray returned Sunday to help an A’s starting rotation that has faltered often this season.
On Sunday, it was breakdowns in other areas that doomed the A’s in a 5-2 loss to the Astros that completed a three-game sweep for the home team.
A homer off Daniel Coulombe tied the game in the sixth, and an error from fellow reliever Ryan Dull set up Houston’s go-ahead run in the seventh as the A’s opened their eight-game road trip with three straight losses to the division rival Astros.
But blame also spread to an Oakland offense that scored twice in the first and then took a nap the rest of the afternoon at Minute Maid Park. The A’s finished 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners total.
Gray, summoned from the disabled list earlier than planned because of an injury to starter Rich Hill, looked sharp over five innings of one-run ball. He struck out five and allowed five hits, showing overall better command and sharpness than he has much of this season.
He had posted a 10.38 ERA over his previous five starts before going on the DL with a strained trapezius muscle. Gray looked strong and was at 69 pitches through five innings when manager Bob Melvin decided to go to his bullpen to start the sixth.
Melvin had said before the game he’d likely limit Gray to around 80 pitches depending on “how he gets there.” That was the pitch count the A’s had in mind for Gray were he to make his originally scheduled minor league rehab start. The right-hander was coming off a 21-pitch inning in the fifth, when he allowed Carlos Gomez’s homer for his only run. That was his longest inning, perhaps prompting Melvin to call on his relief corps early.
Things went downhill for the A’s from that point, as the Astros took the lead for good in the seventh and added on with two runs in the eighth. They’ve now won 11 of their past 13, while the A’s followed up a home sweep of Minnesota by being swept themselves.
Starting pitching report:
With the A’s looking for stability in their rotation behind Rich Hill, they had to be encouraged by what they saw with Gray. He showed good life on his fastball, hitting 95 miles per hour on a couple pitches, and showed better command of his secondary stuff too. Gray struck out Carlos Core twice, once with a slider and once with a changeup, and he walked just one.
With two lefties due up in the sixth, Melvin opted to call on Coulombe, who was sharp in 1 2/3 scoreless innings Saturday.
Coulombe retired Colby Rasmus on a fly ball to lead off the bottom of the sixth. But he fell behind the right-handed hitting Gattis 3-1, and the Astros slugger homered for the third time in the series, a shot to left that tied the game 2-2.
Ryan Dull has been perfect in stranding base runners this season, but he hurt himself in the seventh. After issuing a leadoff walk to George Springer, Dull overthrew first base on a pickoff to send Springer to second. Springer tagged and advanced to third on Jose Altus’s fly to center, then scored when Correa chopped a double past the third base bag to put the Astros up 3-2.
The Astros added two runs in the eighth off Marc Rzepczynski, who was visited by the training staff in the middle of the inning and was in obvious physical discomfort for much of his outing. Melvin stuck with him, though at one point Jesse Hahn, who started Friday and went just two-thirds of an inning, was warming up at one point.
At the plate:
Yonder Alonso’s bloop single in the first scored two runs to give the A’s an early lead, but they managed nothing more against Astros starter Lance McCullers, who struck out nine over seven innings.
In the field:
The A’s entered Sunday having gone a season-high six consecutive games without committing an error. They made two in this one. Aside from Dull’s costly pickoff attempt, shortstop Marcus Semien sailed a throw past first base in the sixth.
Astros right fielder Colby Rasmus, who made an outstanding play to throw out Jed Lowrie from left field Saturday, made a diving catch to rob Billy Burns in the eighth Sunday and strand a base runner.
A crowd of 30,817 was on hand.
The A’s head to Milwaukee for a two-game set, their first interleague series of the season. Sean Manaea (2-3, 6.16) takes the ball in Tuesday’s 5:10 p.m. opener against Zach Davies (3-3, 4.53). On Wednesday, it’s Jesse Hahn (2-3, 6.10) vs. Chase Anderson (3-6, 4.68), also at 5:10.