A’s turn to Cotton in finale versus Astros (Apr 16, 2017)

OAKLAND, Calif — Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jharel Cotton has experienced a good start and a bad start already in this young season.

The 25-year-old hopes his start Sunday against the Houston Astros is similar to his excellent second start, when he shut out the Kansas City Royals through seven innings, allowing only two hits and striking out six in a 2-0 victory.

“I focused on finishing over the front side and driving the ball down,” said Cotton about the April 10 start. “I was keeping the ball down.”

In his first start this season, Cotton allowed five runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings in a 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. He struck out four, but walked two and had a wild pitch.

The first two starts occurred after some inconsistent numbers in spring training. While Cotton was 3-0 and held opponents to a .208 average, he also issued 11 walks in 20 2/3 innings and posted a 4.35 ERA in six starts.

Cotton faced the Astros on Sept. 19 and pitched well in a no-decision. In a 4-2 loss in Oakland, Cotton allowed one run and two hits with six strikeouts in six innings.

The weather at first pitch of Cotton’s first start against Houston was clear and 73 degrees. This time, rain is projected for the Oakland area on Sunday but Cotton intends on following his regular preparation routine.

“I’m just going to play it by ear,” said Cotton, who added that if the game is postponed initially by rain that he needs only 45 minutes to prepare.

Charlie Morton will oppose Cotton. Morton allowed three runs in five innings during a 6-0 loss at Seattle on Monday.

One player who most likely will not see action Sunday is Houston’s Carlos Correa. The star shortstop was hit by a pitch on his right hand in the ninth inning Saturday and left the game immediately. Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said after Saturday’s game Correa sustained a hand contusion.

“Hopefully it doesn’t have to be more than one day,” Correa said of “We will see how it heals.”

One player who will face Cotton is former Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick. The A’s traded Reddick to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Cotton at last season’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Reddick then signed with the Astros and is hitting .273 so far and received a warm reception from Oakland fans Friday night.

The Astros (8-4) have scored runs in bunches against Oakland (5-7) this series.

On Friday, Houston produced five of its seven runs in the final three innings of a 7-2 victory. A day later, Houston scored all 10 of its runs in the final four innings in a 10-6 win, including eight after not getting a hit for the first six innings.

Norichika Aoki has been a big part of those two victories. The outfielder is 4-for-8 in the series with four RBIs. For this season, he’s hitting .375 in eight games played this season.

“He’s tough. He hangs in there when his at-bats are really good,” Hinch said. “One thing I know about him is he’s going to put the ball in play. He’s come up big for us.”

Meanwhile, the A’s will be looking to bounce back after seeing a 5-0 lead evaporate Saturday for their third straight loss. Sean Manaea allowed no hits in five-plus innings, but walked five batters, including three straight to start the sixth inning.

“Obviously Sean threw the ball really well early then just kind of lost it in that inning,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We just couldn’t finish it off. We had to use all of our guys to try to finish it off.”