By Matthew Harrington
For the fourth time in as many outings, the Oakland Athletics lost a game started by trade acquisition Jason Hammel. In need of a win to keep the Los Angeles Angels over a game back entering play Wednesday afternoon, the A’s instead fell to the Astros 8-1 at Minute Maid Park. The Green and Gold (66-41) also dropped Monday’s contest in Houston 7-3, marking Wednesday as only the second series loss in 11 chances all-time against the Astros (44-64) since the start of interleague play and Houston’s move the American League last season.
Two starts removed from a brief two-inning July 19th start where the right hander yielded five runs against the Orioles, Hammel again found himself in early trouble Wednesday afternoon. The other starter acquired in the July 4th Jeff Samardzija blockbuster surrendered six runs in a six-hit first inning, then served up a two-run home run to Jon Singleton in the fifth for eight earned runs. Hammel (8-9, 3.87 ERA) struck out four, walked a trio of Astros and scattered seven hits in his 4 1/3 innings of work to take the loss. He has now allowed 18 runs over 17 innings with the Athletics.
The lone bright spot for the A’s came in the second inning after Josh Donaldson took the first pitch, an 88 mile-per-hour fastball, of the inning over the Crawford boxes in left field. Donaldson’s 23rd homer of the season was the only run Oakland scored off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel. The southpaw (10-7, 2.97) went the distance, notching five strikeouts and a scant three hits over his complete-game gem. Billy Burns went 0-for-4 in his first major league start in the leadoff spot for Bob Melvin with Coco Crisp still in Oakland after receiving an MRI on his neck Monday.
With the A’s idle Thursday, the Angels could pull a half-game back of Oakland by the time the AL West Leaders open up a 10-game homestand Friday night against the Kansas City Royals. The Halos, sitting two games back at the moment, play an evening game against the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday before wrapping up the four-game set at Camden Yards Thursday.
Opening Day starter Sonny Gray will open the weekend series for the A’s Friday night looking for a superhuman effort on a night when O.Co Coliseum will be lit up with a postgame super hero-inspired fireworks display. He’ll clash with the Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie in an attempt to save the dwindling AL-West lead from peril.
After three against the Royals, the surging Tampa Bay Rays roll into town (with or without hot trade commodity David Price) for a three-game set followed by a four-game series against former Athletic Kurt Suzuki and the Minnesota Twins. August 9th against the Twins, fans will receive a special Tony La Russa Hall of Fame bobblehead in honor of the legendary skipper’s induction into Cooperstown earlier this month.