HOUSTON — Andrew Triggs keeps checking off all the right boxes in his first season as a major league starting pitcher.
Coming into the year, manager Bob Melvin said the right-hander’s biggest challenge would be retiring lefty hitters. He’s done that splendidly.
On Saturday, the A’s needed to see if Triggs could bounce back after his first rough outing of 2017. He responded with the best of his 11 career starts, holding a potent Astros lineup off the scoreboard for seven innings as the A’s registered a 2-1 victory that snapped their five-game losing streak.
The effective cutter that eluded Triggs when he lost to the Mariners last Sunday was back. Houston’s hitters waved helplessly at the pitch and began their walk back to the dugout all in the same motion, as Triggs rang up a career-high nine strikeouts. His seven innings also were a career high for the 28-year-old.
“We’re not really swinging the bats right now,” Melvin said. “We score two runs and we’re facing a lineup that you expect to score a bunch of runs. So to pitch as well as he did and go through the lineup three times, give us seven innings of work, is pretty good.
“He had the one off-outing, and every outing (besides that) has been pretty spotless.”
Triggs, whose 1.84 ERA ranks seventh in the American League, doesn’t blow people away with his fastball. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot that suggests it might be easy for left-handed hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. Last season, the batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all roughly 40 to 50 points higher for lefties than for righties off Triggs.
All he’s done coming out of the gate this season is hold lefties to an .087 batting average (4-for-46). Another revealing stat: Opposing cleanup hitters are 0-for-14 off him.
Triggs credited catchers Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley and, when he’s been up with the big club, Bruce Maxwell for their expertise in calling pitches against lefties.
“They’ve done such a good job keeping the sequences unpredictable,” he said. “You command pitches, you’re gonna get guys out. I know the stereotype is when you throw from the angle that I do, you’re gonna struggle with lefties. I’ve been aware, at least of that profile, for a while. I’ve worked on it quite a bit.”
Triggs had his entire repertoire working Saturday, according to Vogt.
“He was keeping them off-balance. Even when it seemed they were starting to sit on his slider, he starts sneaking some heaters by them. He was outstanding.”
But he had help. First baseman Yonder Alonso made a terrific leaping grab of Josh Reddick’s liner in the fifth that might have gone for extra bases. An inning before that, Jaff Decker made an on-the-money throw to third from deep right field to nail Carlos Beltran tagging up on a fly ball.
“He’s got a good arm so don’t sleep on him at all,” Triggs said.
Given how their month has gone, it’s no surprise the A’s got both their runs on homers. They’ve gone deep 31 times in April, their most homers in the month since they clubbed 34 in 2006. Lowrie, who’s spent two stints with the Astros and owns an offseason home in Houston, went deep to right to give the A’s a 1-0 lead. Khris Davis mashed his 10th homer in the eighth for what wound up being an important insurance run when Jose Altuve followed with a homer off Sean Doolittle.
Davis’ teammates by now are accustomed to seeing the left fielder flaunt his opposite-field power. He’s hit three homers this series, all to straightaway right or right-center.
Said Lowrie: “I think at this point it’s fair to call it special.”