Athletics

Rewind: Mengden 'in charge' in win vs MLB's hottest team

mengden-melvin-giants-june27-usatsi.jpg

Rewind: Mengden 'in charge' in win vs MLB's hottest team

SAN FRANCISCO — The month Daniel Mengden circled on his calendar was September.

He hoped to make it to Triple-A by mid-season and be wearing a big league uniform by the time rosters expanded Sept. 1.

So much for that plan.

Mengden blew his own ambitious idea out of the water with an accelerated path to the bigs. You could say the rookie’s dominant performance in the A’s 8-3 win over the Giants on Monday was an eye-opener, if only he hadn’t shown similar form in his first three starts.

The only thing missing was a victory, and the right-hander notched career win No. 1 by tossing 7 2/3 innings of four-hit ball at AT&T Park to slow down the majors’ hottest team over the past month-and-a-half.

“From the day he got here, he looked like he belonged, and he looked like he had presence out on the mound and is in charge,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Boy, it’s been really impressive.”

He’s also added an adrenaline shot for a team that will need to find consistent motivation to take it through the season’s finish line. Since divisional play began in 1969, this is just the third time in Oakland history the A’s have trailed by 16 1/2 or more games before the end of June. The way to keep the fire lit under this bunch is for young players like Mengden to come up from the minors and bring the energy.

“Anytime the youngsters come up, they add a little extra to your overall enthusiasm,” Melvin said. “You’re losing games, you're down. It’s tough to find that enthusiasm, especially for veteran guys. So anytime we can add a guy like that that performs in that fashion, it adds a little more enthusiasm to what we do out there.”

Calm and collected before a sellout crowd of 41,442, Mengden retired his first 13 hitters before allowing Angel Pagan’s single in the fifth. He changed speeds, moved the ball around the strike zone and kept missing the barrel of Giants’ bats.

He even added some flair, throwing his glove up and snaring Gregor Blanco’s liner that came rocketing back toward the mound in the second.

“That caught me, I didn’t catch that,” Mengden cracked.

The result of that play may have been part luck. But his reaction was symbolic of his presence on the mound. He appears in control of the situation, not at all overwhelmed by the big league moment.

“I’m impressed,” shortstop Marcus Semien said. “I didn’t realize how short of a time he’s had in pro ball. He’s come up here and shown that he belongs.”

A fourth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 2014, Mengden was traded from the Houston Astros to the A’s last July in the Scott Kazmir deal. He entered this season never having pitched above Single-A. He was not invited to major league camp, as were other more highly touted prospects like Sean Manaea and Dillon Overton.

Starting out with Double-A Midland, Mengden set a goal for himself.

“I was trying to make it to Triple-A by (the halfway point) of the year, and make September call-ups,” Mengden said. “That would be a good year for me. (But) some injuries, and how well I threw, I progressed quicker than expected. And i’m here now.”

The A’s couldn’t be happier about that. They’ve won five of their past seven, and look forward to welcoming Manaea back to the rotation Wednesday. He’s missed two starts with a forearm strain. Rich Hill should be back by this weekend’s series against Pittsburgh. Hill struck out six over three innings in a rehab start with Single-A Stockton on Monday as he works back from a strained groin.

Oakland currently is working with only four starters on the roster, but if Manaea and Hill both return healthy, someone will have to make way in the rotation. It’s hard to envision Mengden going anywhere given he’s allowed just eight earned runs over 25 2/3 innings, good for a 2.81 ERA.

“If you keep performing, you’ll find a place for yourself,” Melvin said. “He continues to perform.”

Matt Olson provides biggest swing of season in A's comeback win vs. Astros

Matt Olson provides biggest swing of season in A's comeback win vs. Astros

The A's bats had been silent all night, really for the entire series.

Through 17 innings, Oakland had mustered just one run on five hits against the mighty Houston Astros. The A's were staring directly at an 0-2 series hole, with Justin Verlander looming in Wednesday's finale.

That's when Matt Olson changed everything with one swing of the bat. Following a leadoff walk by Marcus Semien and an opposite-field single by Matt Chapman, Olson blasted a mammoth three-run home run off Astros closer Roberto Osuna to give Oakland a 3-2 lead. The A's would go on to win 4-3 in 11 innings, arguably the biggest victory of the season.

"It's up there," Olson told NBC Sports California. "(Astros starter Wade) Miley obviously was having his way with us while he was out there. Sometimes it's just a change of pitching and we can get on a roll. That was kind of the case today."

Miley tossed eight shutout innings before allowing Semien and Chapman to reach base in the ninth. That's when Astros manager A.J. Hinch turned to Osuna, his flame-throwing closer.

The right-hander quickly jumped ahead of Olson with a pair of mid-90s fastballs. Olson fouled off an 0-2 fastball, followed by an 0-2 changeup to stay alive. Osuna came back with another fastball and Olson jumped all over it, sending it to the upper deck in right field.

"I just wanted to be ready for the heater," Olson said. "I know he likes to mix in some changeups and cutters, but at the end of the day, he wants to beat you with the heater. I went in there and told myself not to be late on it. I battled off a couple of pitches here and there, swung through one, and then finally got one over the plate."

Prior to the home run, Olson had been 0-for-17 against the Astros this season. As a team, the A's were just 1-8 against Houston, getting outscored 53-21. That's what made Tuesday's win even more meaningful.

"That was huge," A's starter Mike Fiers told reporters. "That's why I love this team. We're never out of it."

Added manager Bob Melvin: "To have the resiliency to come back after really doing nothing for the better part of the game until the last inning -- Marcus and Chappy get on base with a walk and a hit and then Oly does what Oly does -- that was a great feeling."

[RELATED: A's inquired about Marcus Stroman]

The A's still trail Houston by 6 1/2 games in the AL West, but a loss would've made it 8 1/2 games. Oakland also pulled within one game of Cleveland for the top AL wild-card position. The A's lead Boston and Tampa Bay by two games for the second spot.

Instead of facing the strong possibility of a Houston sweep, the A's now have a chance to win the series on Wednesday. Of course, that won't be easy with Verlander starting for the Astros. But then again, he can't be any better than Miley was Tuesday night, and the A's won anyway.
 

A's vs. Astros lineups: Chad Pinder, Franklin Barreto start vs. Wade Miley

A's vs. Astros lineups: Chad Pinder, Franklin Barreto start vs. Wade Miley

The A's will try to erase Monday night from their memory and attempt to even their series against the first-place Houston Astros on Tuesday. Houston dominated the opener by a final score of 11-1, moving 7 1/2 games ahead of Oakland in the American League West Division.

The A's will turn to their top starter Mike Fiers to try to get back in the win column Tuesday night. The right-hander is 9-3 with a 3.64 ERA in 21 starts this season, winning each of his last seven decisions.

Fiers, 34, has allowed three runs or fewer in 15 consecutive outings and has delivered 11 straight quality starts. However, he is just 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA in five career games against the Astros.

Houston will counter with veteran left-hander Wade Miley. The 32-year-old is putting together a strong season, going 8-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 20 starts. In seven career outings against Oakland, Miley is 5-2 with a 1.61 ERA.

With the Astros starting a southpaw, the A's have stacked their lineup with right-handed bats. Chad Pinder will start in left field and hit seventh, while Franklin Barreto will play second base and bat ninth. First baseman Matt Olson is the only left-handed hitter in the Oakland lineup. He will hit third.

Here are the full lineups for the A's-Astros game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 5:10.

Oakland A's (57-44)
Marcus Semien, SS
Matt Chapman, 3B
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ramón Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Chad Pinder, LF 
Josh Phegley, C
Franklin Barreto, 2B

Mike Fiers, RHP (9-3, 3.64 ERA)

Houston Astros (65-37)
George Springer, CF
José Altuve, 2B
Alex Bregman, SS
Michael Brantley, LF
Yordan Álvarez, DH
Yuli Gurriel, 3B
Josh Reddick, RF
Aledmys Díaz, 1B
Max Stassi, C

Wade Miley, LHP (8-4, 3.25 ERA)