Scuffling Astros to host A’s in home opener

Field Level Media

April 05, 2019 at 9:22 am.

Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa provided the Astros cover for their lingering frustration on Wednesday at Globe Life Park, ejecting Houston manager A.J. Hinch and hitting coach Alex Cintron in the second inning before engaging in a tense conversation with Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole during a 4-0 loss at Texas.

Truthfully, Kulpa served as a scapegoat for the scuffling Astros, whose offense left plenty to be desired during their opening-week road trip through Tampa Bay and Texas. On Friday, when the Astros host the Oakland Athletics in their home opener at Minute Maid Park, the expectation is that their play will befit a championship contender, and that their issues at the plate won’t be masked by any potential disagreements with the umpiring crew.

The Astros have dropped 5 of 6 games and returned home with a .235/.304/.363 slash line and a .667 OPS that ranks 10th in the American League.

“I think there’s no reason for that to affect anything with us playing the game,” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said of the disputes with Kulpa and his strike zone. “I think we need to do a better job of playing the game of baseball.

“We got it shoved hard this road trip, and we need to figure it out. We come back after an off day at home in front of the best fans in baseball and get to go out there and play baseball again. There’s no excuse for anything. We just didn’t play well enough on this entire road trip. We need to look in the mirror and get better.”

Right-hander Collin McHugh (0-1, 3.60 ERA) will start the home opener for the Astros. McHugh pitched effectively in his season debut last Saturday against the Rays, allowing two runs on three hits and one walk with nine strikeouts over five innings in his first start since Oct. 1, 2017. He is 8-1 with a 2.84 ERA over 17 career appearances (11 starts) against the Athletics, including a 1-0 record with a 1.23 ERA over six relief appearances last season.

Frankie Montas will get the start for the Athletics. The Dominican right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA this season, limiting the Los Angeles Angels to one run on three hits with six strikeouts over six innings in a 2-1 victory on March 31. Montas is 1-1 with a 7.74 ERA over four career appearances (two starts) against the Astros, going 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA over two starts against Houston in 2018.

The Athletics received a measure of good news during their 7-3 home victory over Boston on Thursday when third baseman Matt Chapman returned from a minor wrist injury in the eighth inning. Chapman was not in the starting lineup after being hit by a Nathan Eovaldi pitch on the left wrist on Wednesday.

Chapman, a Gold Glove winner last season, made a sparkling defensive play while in the field, showing that his injury scare was little more than that.

“It got a little sore as (Wednesday’s) game went along, and it’s a little sore today,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said prior to Oakland clinching the four-game series.