With Oakland right-hander Dan Straily leading the way by whiffing 11 batters in 6 2/3 innings, the Astros struggled to make contact once again, striking out 13 times in Friday's 8-3 loss to the A's at Minute Maid Park. The defeat was their third in a row.
"We had some fastballs to put in play and put some really good bats on them, but we fouled them off or we swung through them," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "In the Major Leagues, you're going to get one pitch each at-bat to hit, and when you get it you've got to put it in play hard, and if you don't put it in play hard, you're going to find yourself chasing the pitcher's pitch. Again, that's what happened tonight."
Houston batters have struck out 56 times through four games, which is a Major League record to start a season. All four starting pitchers the Astros have faced have either tied or set career highs for strikeouts in a game, with Straily becoming the first Oakland pitcher to strike out 11 batters in a game since Gio Gonzalez on Sept. 28, 2011.
After the game, Straily was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Bartolo Colon, who's returning to the rotation Saturday following a ban for using performance-enhancing drugs.
"It's honestly something I thought about," Straily said. "I tried not to, but I could do basic math. There's six of us for five spots, and I'm the least experienced, the youngest guy. So I take it in stride and go down and do some work and see you later. It's not a down note for me today. I'm pretty excited about today."
The Astros are off to a slow start offensively, scoring three runs following an 8-2 win over Texas to start the season. They entered Friday having been shut out in two consecutive games, and snapped a 23-inning scoreless drought in the sixth on Jose Altuve's RBI single.
"We only have four games, and I trust my team," said Altuve, who's hitting .438 (7-for-16). "We're working really hard, and we just have to play together the right way and we're going to be OK."
That's the same message preached by Porter.
"The reason I'm not concerned is I know offensively these guys are going to hit," he said. "That fifth inning kind of got away, and they put up the seven spot. Obviously, you can't take innings away in this game, but at the same time you say to yourself if you're able to minimize that inning and it not be a seven-run inning, and maybe a three-run inning, and it's a different ballgame. Again, those guys continue to find and grind to the last at-bat, and that's what it's all about."
The fifth inning was nothing short of disastrous for the Astros, who watched the A's send 13 batters to the plate and score seven runs to take an 8-0 lead. Houston starter Brad Peacock, pitching against his former club, was pulled after allowing a one-out double in the fifth, and Oakland roughed up Xavier Cedeno for six hits and three runs without recording an out.
The Astros had a chance to get out of the inning without giving up a run when Yoenis Cespedes hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez with one out and the bases loaded, but he misplayed the potential double-play ball and that opened the floodgates.
"That's a tough error," Porter said. "That ball was hit pretty hard, but if he fields that ball cleanly it's definitely a double play because of the speed the ball is hit."
Peacock, making his first start since the end of the 2011 season with Washington, allowed two runs and three hits in 4 1/3 innings, but too many long counts brought his day to an end following 89 pitches.
"I was a little too amped up the first two innings, but I calmed down and feel like I did OK," Peacock said. "By the end of it, I felt great, and was keeping the ball down. I've just got to get in better counts. I'm going to work on it in my next bullpen and I should be fine."
About the only players immune to the offensive struggles are Altuve, Gonzalez, third baseman Matt Dominguez and center fielder Justin Maxwell. First baseman Brett Wallace is 1-for-14 with 11 strikeouts, right fielder Rick Ankiel is 1-for-11 with nine strikeouts and left-fielder Chris Carter is 1-for-15 with eight strikeouts.
"I'm pretty sure no one is worried about us putting the barrel on the ball in this clubhouse, so we've just got to go about our business and just keep playing," Wallace said. "We're definitely all in this together, and we're going to keep grinding."