Estrada’s shaky start dooms A’s in loss to Astros

Bregman's grand slam helps lift Houston to easy win over A.L. West rivals

  • Houston Astros batter Alex Bregman (42), center, celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam off Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Liam Hendriks in the fourth inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros batter Alex Bregman (42), right, celebrates with Josh Reddick (42) after hitting a grand slam off Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Liam Hendriks in the fourth inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros batter Alex Bregman (42) hits a grand slam off Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Liam Hendriks (42) in the fourth inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics pitcher Marco Estrada (42) delivers a pitch in the first inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics pitcher Marco Estrada (42) adjusts his cap after allowing a walk in the first inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros baserunner George Springer (42) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off Oakland Athletics pitcher Marco Estrada (42) in the first inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros’ Josh Reddick (42),celebrates after hitting a two run home run in the second inning of their baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros baserunner Josh Reddick (42), left, celebrates with Yuli Gurriel (42) after scoring Gurriel on a two run home run in the second inning of their baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros baserunner Jose Altuve (42) runs back to first base safe as Oakland Athletics first baseman Kendrys Morales (42) catches the late throw in the first inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros pitcher Collin McHugh (42) delivers a pitch in the first inning of their baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Liam Hendriks (42) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Liam Hendriks (42) looks off as Houston Astros batter Alex Bregman (42) rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam in the fourth inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros batter Alex Bregman (42) hits a grand slam off Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Liam Hendriks (42) in the fourth inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Players wore the number 42 on their jerseys to honor former Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Fernando Rodney (42) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.(Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics outfielder Mark Canha (42) gets hit by a pitch in the sixth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.(Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Ryan Buchter (42) delivers a pitch in the seventh inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.(Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics batter Mark Canha (42) hits a single loading the bases in the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Yusmeiro Petit (42) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.(Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics batter Kendrys Morales (42) hits a sacrifice fly scoring Marcus Semien in the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics closer Joakim Soria (42) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Houston Astros at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.(Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Oakland Athletics baserunner Marcus Semien (42) runs past Houston Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos (42) as Semien scores from third base on a sacrifice fly by Kendrys Morales (42) in the ninth inning of their baseball game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros closer Chris Devenski (42) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning of their baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.(Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Houston Astros outfielder Josh Reddick (42) celebrates with teammates after winning their baseball game 10-1 against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

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OAKLAND — The Athletics, in theory refreshed and ready after having two of the last three days off, opened their homestand with a 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the division-leading Houston Astros at the Coliseum.

The good news is that it was witnessed by the smallest crowd of the season, as 12,270 were there to see starting pitcher Marco Estrada give up a home run to George Springer to open the game and never find his rhythm, departing after 3 1/3 innings.

By then, Estrada had set the table for an Alex Bregman grand slam against Liam Hendriks that broke the game open, giving Houston an 8-0 lead and rendering the rest of the evening an exercise in maintenance relief pitching and mass substitution.

Three takeaways as the A’s fell to 10-10 while the Astros improved to 12-5:

Estrada can’t get started

It was the second consecutive rough outing for Estrada, who gave up nine hits and six earned runs in a 12-4 road loss against a Baltimore lineup that doesn’t frighten anyone.

That game was on April 8, and Estrada was pitching with extra rest because of Saturday’s rainout in Texas. The 35-year-old right-hander wasn’t having any talk of having been thrown off schedule.

“It was really bad,” Estrada said. “I brought my worst game to a very good lineup and obviously that’s not going to cut it. Can’t go out there missing spots like I did today. It’s not going to work against anybody.”

Estrada arrived after a poor season with Toronto, and the A’s were hopeful of making him a Rich Hill-Scott Kazmir type rebound story. A’s manager Bob Melvin still believes Estrada can be that pitcher, but for openers he’s got to be more sharp.

“He goes 3-2 on the first hitter, hits a home run, they kind of had him on the run most of the night,” Melvin said. “They didn’t chase, he walked some guys, got in some deep counts . . . he wasn’t throwing anything off the plate today that they were chasing.”

Estrada also gave up a two-run home run to Josh Reddick in the second inning. He’d walked in a run before giving way to Hendriks, who struck out Jose Altuve before surrendering Bregman’s grand slam to left center.

How does Estrada turn it around?

“I think get off to a good start,” Melvin said. “Get a couple innings where you go 1-2-3, 1-2-3 and get some momentum and get some confidence off of that.”

Estrada is now 0-2 with a 6.85 earned run average.

Too much McHugh

On the flip side was Houston starter and winner Collin McHugh (3-1), who worked six scoreless innings. He gave up just two singles, one to Khris Davis in the second (he was erased on a double play) and one to Stephen Piscotty in the same inning.

McHugh didn’t exactly pound the strike zone, throwing 52 strikes in 89 pitches, but he did manage to keep A’s hitters on their heels.

“He keeps you off-balance, he throws very few fastballs, and in counts where you expect a fastball he can throw a slider for a strike,” Melvin said. “He drops a curve ball in, throws a cutter. He’s tough to think along with. When he’s locating and getting ahead it’s tough to string anything together.”

Josh James worked a scoreless seventh and eighth for Houston, and up until the ninth the A’s never had a runner reach third base. Left-hander Reymin Guduon then walked Marcus Simeon and gave up singles to Chad Pinder and Mark Canha to load the bases.

Kendrys Morales then lifted a sacrifice fly to right, prompting the Astros to bring in Chris Devenski to get the last two outs.

Those empty seats

A series opener against the division favorite wasn’t enough to get the turnstiles going even on a night when parking was free.

The weather was chilly but clear, and dating back to the previous homestand it was the fifth straight Coliseum crowd that that numbered less than 16,000.

NOTES

— The second-inning single by Davis extended his hitting streak to eight games. He is hitting .333 over that span.

— Nick Hundley got the start ahead of hot-hitting Josh Phegley at catcher and went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts to see his batting average dip to .103.

— Besides Hendriks, who was charged with one run (the grand slam scored three runs inherited from Estrada), Melvin used Fernando Rodney, Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria for an inning apiece. Only Buchter gave up a run.

— The A’s had two sparking defensive plays in the top of the first inning, with left fielder Robbie Grossman sliding into foul territory in left field to catch a twisting fly by Bregman, and Matt Chapman making a diving catch in foul territory to retire Michael Brantley.

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