Oakland Athletics newcomers will seek to improve upon a discouraging first impression when they return to their home field for a rematch with the visiting Houston Astros on Friday night.
The Astros got home runs from Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, a two-run double from Yordan Alvarez and six shutout innings from Zack Greinke in an 8-1 win in the teams’ season opener on Thursday.
While the Astros, who finished second in the American League West last season before eliminating first-place Oakland in the AL Division Series, fielded a mostly familiar cast on Opening Day, the ever-changing A’s trotted out a new double-play combination as well as a new designated hitter.
The changes didn’t pay immediate dividends, as second baseman Jed Lowrie, shortstop Elvis Andrus and DH Mitch Moreland went a combined 1-for-8, with Andrus getting the only hit, a double.
Oakland’s holdovers didn’t fare much better. Ramon Laureano collected a double and a single for one-third of the A’s hit total. Chad Pinder added a pair of singles, and Matt Chapman drove in the lone run with a sacrifice fly.
After being stymied by the 37-year-old Greinke, the A’s will take their cracks at 24-year-old right-hander Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA in 2020) in the rematch. Oakland will counter with lefty Jesus Luzardo (3-2, 4.12).
Javier lost twice to the A’s as a starter in the regular season last year before being called upon twice in relief Houston’s four-game win over Oakland in the playoff series.
He was credited with a hold in a 10-5 win in Game 1, pitching one hitless inning, before earning the win after again holding the A’s scoreless, this time on three hits, over 2 1/3 innings in the series-clinching Game 4.
Javier compiled an 0-2 record with a 7.88 ERA in his two regular-season starts against the A’s.
Neither Lowrie nor Moreland has ever batted against Javier. Andrus went 0-for-2 with a walk against the then-rookie last season.
Chapman, Matt Olson and Sean Murphy all homered off the Dominican Republic native in the regular season.
Javier threw just three innings against major league competition in a spring interrupted by a COVID-mandated quarantine. He did get in a 70-pitch “B” game last Sunday.
The Astros haven’t announced a pitch limit, but pitching coach Brent Strom took time to set a low bar on expectations for all his starters on the eve of the season.
“Five innings might constitute a complete game the first time around,” he said. “We’ll see how they feel as the games go on. There’s going to be more adrenaline, and if we can get some quick outs earlier, that will be the key.”
Luzardo had gone 1-0 with a 2.87 ERA in three career regular-season appearances against the Astros (two starts) before getting roughed up for four runs and five hits over 4 1/3 innings in Game 3 of last year’s playoff series. He didn’t get a decision in an eventual 9-7 Oakland win.
Jose Altuve and Aledmys Diaz homered off Luzardo in the game.
Brantley has gone 2-for-8 in his career against Oakland’s 23-year-old, including the postseason. That’s one fewer hit than he compiled on Opening Day, including a leadoff homer in the eighth against a left-hander, Adam Kolarek, that A’s manager Bob Melvin thought deflated his team.
“Brantley is a very tough guy on us,” Melvin said. “He got some good swings off (Kolarek). He gets him on the run a little bit with a home run right away.”
Bregman’s homer, also off Kolarek, came five pitches later and continued Houston’s pull-away.
–Field Level Media