OAKLAND — Of the many lessons Daniel Mengden is learning in his rookie season, one is just how quickly fortunes can turn for a major league pitcher.
He coasted through the first four innings Wednesday before things took a wrong turn in his final two frames. By the time the book was closed on the A’s 6-5 loss to Houston, Mengden was still searching for his first victory at the Coliseum after eight starts.
His final line wasn’t awful — 5 2/3 innings, six hits, four runs, two walks and seven strikeouts. But the margin for error is thin for young pitchers, and right now Mengden isn’t getting away with too many mistakes.
It was a 1-1 game in the sixth, with a Houston runner on first, when Mengden tried to go upstairs on an 0-2 fastball to cleanup hitter Carlos Correa. Instead it came in belt high, and Correa banged an RBI double to put the Astros ahead. Mengden was ahead 1-2 on Evan Gattis, the next batter, but Gattis went down and got a curve that wasn’t quite buried low enough. The slugger sent the first of his two home runs sailing over the wall in left, and just like that, Mengden and the A’s were in a 4-1 hole that they couldn’t climb out of.
“Basically it comes down to executing down (in the zone) in big counts when you’re facing the heart of the order,” Mengden said. “You can’t make mistakes. … You’ve got to be able to execute in big situations.”
Mengden, in two stints with the big club, is 0-7 with a 6.86 ERA in eight starts at the Coliseum. The last A’s pitcher to have a winless season at home with six or more decisions was Rip Coleman, who went 0-7 with the 1959 Kansas City A’s.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Gattis homers twice as Astros sweep A's in Oakland]
But Mengden’s challenge is tied more to the location of pitches, not the location of the game itself. A’s manager Bob Melvin generally was happy with Mengden’s stuff Wednesday. He credited Gattis for going after the 1-2 curve down and away and yanking it to left.
But with Gattis in the batter’s box, it hasn’t mattered who’s on the mound. He’s the first opponent to homer eight times against the A’s in a single season since Adrian Beltre in 2011. And since 2014, nobody has gone deep more against Oakland than Gattis (13).
“He’s not called The White Bear for nothing,” Astros reliever Luke Gregerson said. “ He’s a strong man.”
A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell, a rookie himself, said the plan entering the game was for Mengden to hammer away with his fastball and not rely so much on off-speed stuff. From that standpoint, Maxwell liked what he saw. And, having caught Mengden in both Triple-A and the majors this year, he likes the development he sees even if it’s not reflected in Mengden’s 2-8 record.
“His work is diligent,” Maxwell said. “He understands the fact that if some guys swing at stuff down there, they don’t swing at it up here. Or if you miss down there they might miss it, where up here, if you miss location they usually make you pay for it up here.”
Mengden retired the first 10 hitters he faced and held the Astros off the board through the first four innings. The sixth was his toughest inning, but in the fifth, his two walks and a wild pitch also led to a run.
Still, Melvin liked what he saw from Mengden in a follow-up to his best major league start, when he threw seven scoreless innings at Kansas City on Thursday. Though the A’s were swept by the Astros, Melvin pointed to the work of rookie starters Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea and Mengden as a positive.
“At times our starting pitching has been the issue, but certainly not this series,” Melvin said. “That’s a group (the Astros) that swings the bat pretty well, and I think overall we held them down pretty good. We just didn’t swing the bats like we did certainly on the road trip.”
Melvin thought the A’s had a solid argument when he requested a crew chief replay review on the game’s final play. A’s pinch runner Arismendy Alcantara was called out at second on a steal attempt for the third out in the ninth, and the call was upheld.
“That replay on the stolen base is a tough one,” Melvin said. “Granted, Luke (Gregerson’s) a pretty easy guy to steal on for the most part, and I don't think (Alcantara) got his best jump on that one. But that’s what he’s in there for.”