OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mark Kotsay will keep searching for the small bright spots as his Oakland Athletics stumble day after day, making sure they maintain their fight. He will celebrate a defensive play here, an at-bat there, a big catch or mighty throw.
Hunter Brown struck out a career-high 10 over seven innings and retired 16 straight during one stretch, Corey Julks drove in three runs and the Houston Astros bounced back from being shut out the two previous games to beat the A’s 5-2 on Friday night.
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Oakland (10-43) now has the most losses over the first 53 games since 1900. The 1932 Red Sox won their 53rd game to move to 11-42, then lost the next eight and 13 of 14.
“This start can test your character, for sure,” said Kotsay, Oakland’s second-year manager. “If we sit here and dwell on the negatives, there’s no chance for us to turn this thing around. Focusing on the positives through a difficult time, it’s not fake because there are positives. The more we can continue in that direction, the more we can build on those positives, for me it’s the right way to think instead of the negative thought.”
The Astros were blanked in back-to-back games at Milwaukee following an eight-game winning streak. After Esteury Ruiz singled to leading off the A’s first, Brown (5-1) didn’t allow another baserunner until Nick Allen drew a one-out walk in the sixth.
Jose Altuve returned to the lineup after exiting Tuesday against the Brewers feeling ill, playing just his fifth game since coming off a season-opening stint on the injured list with a fractured right thumb.
After Hector Neris struck out two in the eighth, Ryan Pressly pitched the ninth for his ninth save in as many chances.
The A’s lost their season-high ninth straight and 12th of 13 and have scored two or fewer runs in eight consecutive contests — matching the second-longest such streak since eight in a row from May 10-18, 1979.
“In hitting, it definitely can get contagious and we just don’t have enough guys in the lineup right now who can put consecutive at-bats together to build that momentum,” Kotsay said.
Seth Brown hit a two-run homer in the seventh for Oakland, just 4-20 in May. James Kaprielian (0-5) made it 12 straight losses by the A’s starters over the past 19 games since their only two wins May 5-6 at Kansas City.
“This is a challenge. This is tough. I’ve never gone through something like this, I don’t think anyone has,” Kaprielian said. “We’re historically losing games right now, unfortunately. But we’re not going to let that steer us. I think we have the ability to show up every day, have a positive attitude, try to be a good teammate and continue to help the guys around us and continue to try and get better every day.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker sat in a photo well before batting practice thinking about his time playing for Oakland to end his career in 1985-86 and how the A’s are planning to relocate to Las Vegas — saying it already “kind of hit home” when he went to Las Vegas a couple of years ago for a Raiders game.
“I can understand it business wise, but sentimentally you hope it didn’t come to this,” he said.
Reflecting still, Baker mentioned the music.
“I remember that this stadium had the best sound system in America and they still do,” Baker said. “They were always jamming here. They’re still jamming now.”
Steelers running back Najee Harris, from nearby Antioch, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on a night the A’s drew a crowd of 13,345 for their first fireworks game of the year.
Astros: LF Michael Brantley, recovering from inflammation in his surgically repaired right shoulder, is swinging again but not yet hitting. ... SS Jeremy Peña got a day off that Baker had initially planned to do Wednesday but had to switch gears when Altuve was unavailable. ... RHP José Urquidy (right shoulder discomfort) threw on flat ground for the first time. ... RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (right elbow strain) was going to meet the team in Oakland, but instead will join the Astros back home in Houston.
Athletics: RHP Paul Blackburn is set to start Monday against the Braves in his return from a blister and fingernail injury on the middle finger of his pitching hand. ... RHP reliever Dany Jiménez is still rehabilitating his strained pitching shoulder in the trainer’s room and has not yet advanced to a throwing program.
Astros LHP Framber Valdez (4-4, 2.45 ERA) is coming off a shutout and looks to win back-to-back starts for the first time all season and his third straight decision.
LHP Hogan Harris (0-0, 162.00) is in Oakland ready to either start as the opener or follow an opener with multiple innings, manager Mark Kotsay said.