HOUSTON - Sean Manaea was much improved Friday night over his previous three starts for the A's.
Unfortunately for the left-hander, he had no control over the work of his counterpart on the mound.
Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel was at his ground ball-inducing best, frustrating the A's over seven scoreless innings as Houston continued its recent dominance over Oakland with a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Keuchel recorded 17 of his 21 outs via ground ball, an astonishing rate but typical of the way the 2015 AL Cy Young winner likes to do business. He entered the night leading the major leagues in groundball percentage (64.7) among those with at least 90 innings pitched. Keuchel (11-2) got a big assist from his infield defense, particularly third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez.
Manaea went six innings and gave up three runs, including back-to-back solo homers from Bregman and Jose Altuve in the third. But it was a definite step forward after his previous three outings, in which he surrendered 13 earned runs and 21 hits over just 6 2/3 innings.
The A's mustered just five hits. Aside from Matt Joyce's homer in the eighth, they didn't advance a single runner past second base.
Oakland has dropped 11 of 13 games to Houston so far this season.
IMPROVED SHOWING: After showing signs of fatigue in his recent starts, Manaea showed improved form simply based on the batters he retired. His fastball generally sat between 89-91, still a bit below normal, but he overall pitched more effectively and turned in his longest outing since going seven innings July 27. He gave up six hits over his six innings, struck out two and walked one. A wild pitch in the sixth hurt, as it set up Josh Reddick's RBI single.
HEY, IT'S PROGRESS: Seeing Manaea get through a scoreless first inning was noteworthy, as the A's had gone five consecutive games with allowing at least one run in the first.
PINDER DEBUTS IN CENTER: Matt Olson entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, then went to right field in the bottom half. That pushed Chad Pinder over to center field, his first time playing the position in the major leagues. Manager Bob Melvin has mentioned Pinder is likely to draw some starts in center before the end of the season.
STRIKEOUTS MOUNTING FOR KD: After striking out four times Wednesday, the A's cleanup man struck out three more times Friday. His 158 strikeouts entering the night were tied for eighth most in franchise history.
CATCHING UPDATE: Josh Phegley, coming back from a strained oblique, has played two games for Triple-A Nashville on a rehab assignment. Melvin said the A's are not going to rush Phegley. Part of that is they think highly of the work Dustin Garneau has done in his place as the right-handed portion of the catching platoon with Bruce Maxwell.