OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — J.P. France knew he had been more reliable on the road than in Houston so far this season — and showed it again, even after getting in an early hole.
Relying on his nasty change-up, the rookie struck out five while pitching into the eighth inning for the first time to win his third straight decision, Kyle Tucker hit a go-ahead two-run double in the sixth, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 3-1 on Thursday night.
The right-hander owns a 2.05 ERA over the first eight road starts of his career, which is lowest in the majors by a starting pitcher with a minimum of 40 innings.
“You’ve got to go out there and just take every game as it is. It’s not the same as the one that’s coming up, it’s not the same as the one that just happened,” France said. “I didn’t know that at all. I knew on the road I was pitching a little better, but that’s awesome.”
Alex Bregman homered in the ninth to help secure the win for France (5-3). France, a 28-year-old finally in the majors, walked one and allowed one run on six hits for the Astros, starting the final series of a nine-game trip.
“He’s a very determined guy, a serious young man, a guy who struggled to get to this point,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He wants to stay. They told me he almost quit at one point in time. That’ll show you what perseverance will do for you.”
Houston’s rally started with a pair of two-out singles by Mauricio Dubón and Jeremy Peña off A’s starter Hogan Harris (2-4), who struck out six over six innings without walking a batter.
“Fortunately for us we got another two-out rally,” Baker said. “I don’t know if there was any difference of approach, it was just a matter of us finding a couple holes.”
Tucker came through to extend his road hitting streak to 17 games, dating to June 11.
Bryan Abreu struck out two in a scoreless eighth, then Ryan Pressly pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to finish the 2-hour, 12-minute game for his 22nd save and No. 99 of his career.
Seth Brown hit an RBI double in the first for the A’s on a night they drew just 4,757 and couldn’t muster much else against France.
“France really did a great job,” Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said.
“You saw the power of the change-up tonight. He threw a lot of change-ups, he kept the change-up down, kept our left-handed hitters off balance.”
The defending World Series champion Astros are 7-0 this season against the last-place A’s, playing the third of four sets between the AL West foes in 2023.
A’s visiting clubhouse manager Mikey Thalblum hustled outside to the food trucks more than an hour before first pitch “to surprise Dusty” with some catfish.
“Dusty’s special, but if another manager has a request, we’re on it,” Thalblum said of Baker. “We get it.”
Baker sure appreciated Thalblum’s thoughtful gesture but had already eaten, so he looked forward to some catfish on Friday.
Astros: José Altuve did baseball activities as he works back from a strained left oblique that landed him on the injured list July 4. “He’s improving rapidly,” Baker said. … José Urquidy, sidelined by discomfort in his throwing shoulder, made a three-inning start for Triple-A Sugar Land on Wednesday and will pitch at least once more. … LF Yordan Alvarez is set to play again for Sugar Land on Friday in left in his recovery from a sore right oblique.
Athletics: The A’s placed 1B Ryan Noda on the 10-day injured list retroactive to July 19 with a fractured jaw and recalled INF Jonah Bride from Triple-A Las Vegas. Noda’s injury will take about three weeks to heal. He is able to do most baseball activity in the meantime, including light hitting without the risk of getting hit in the face. … OF Ramón Laureano (fractured right hand) played for the second time in a five-game rehab assignment with Triple-A Las Vegas. … RHP James Kaprielian (shoulder) 35-pitch bullpen Saturday and RHP Mason Miller (forearm tightness) will throw 20 pitches, all fastballs.
LHP Framber Valdez (7-6, 2.76 ERA) is set to return from a calf injury to start Friday night for Houston. Valdez left Saturday’s start at the Los Angeles Angels in the seventh inning. The A’s will counter with fellow southpaw JP Sears (1-6, 3.99).
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