After going 0-10 against the A's to start the season, the Astros finally came away with a 5-4 win over their new American League West opponents on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. On Wednesday -- with that monkey off their back -- they'll look to win back-to-back games for the first time since mid-June in the series finale against Oakland.
To do so, manager Bo Porter turns to a pitcher who might be wearing a different uniform by the time he makes his next start.
Bud Norris' name has been popular in trade talks for the entire season, and even more so as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. With that, Wednesday could mark Norris' last start as an Astro, but Porter is more focused on the present than the future.
"It's not something that plays into my mind," said Porter, who keeps in contact with general manager Jeff Luhnow on the matter of trades. "I've had a sit down with Bud, and I've said to him to not let it play into his mind. It's tough for some guys to hear their name rumored to be going this place and that place. I told him, 'You control the things you can control.'"
The focus for Norris, who will be countered by A's starter A.J. Griffin, will be improving upon his previous two starts, in which he went 0-2 with a 10.97 ERA, allowing 17 hits in 10 2/3 innings. Most recently, Norris went 5 2/3 innings against the Mariners on Friday, giving up six runs on six hits and four walks along the way.
He'll also look to perform better than his last tango with the A's on April 17 in Oakland, where he surrendered six runs and five hits while walking three in just two-thirds of an inning.
Unlike that start, Norris likely will have to face Home Run Derby winner Yoenis Cespedes, who missed the April 17 contest while on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left hand. Cespedes hasn't started since the All-Star break as he battles a sore left wrist, but he had a double off the bench on Tuesday.
Oakland is 49-29 with Cespedes in the lineup this season while going just 9-13 when he doesn't start.
Athletics: Griffin seeks ninth win
Much like his counterpart, Griffin will hope for better results on Wednesday than when he last took the mound. In five innings against the Angels on Friday, Griffin allowed four runs and six hits, walking one and striking out four.
Griffin gave up three home runs for the second time this season in the loss, which brought his record to 8-7.
"I gave up three home runs, but I felt I was executing pitches pretty well," Griffin said. "It was just not our day."
The other start in which Griffin surrendered three homers came in Houston on May 25, when the Astros posted long balls and five hits while drawing a walk and striking out seven times in 5 2/3 innings against the 25-year-old right-hander. Fortunately for Griffin, he was helped out by an offense that attacked Houston pitching for 18 hits in an 11-5 win.
Wednesday will mark Griffin's third start against the Astros this season, as he took a no-decision on April 16 after giving up just two runs and striking out eight in six innings of work.
Astros: Villar bringing speed to lineup
In the second game of his Major League career, Jonathan Villar made his presence known on Tuesday by going 3-for-4 in the Astros' walk-off win. Villar led off the game with a double, later scored on a Jason Castro single and scored the game-winning run from second base on a botched pickoff attempt in the ninth. That game-changing hustle provided a perfect example for why Porter likes the speedy shortstop at the top of the lineup.
"The goal is to try to get Villar as many at-bats as we possibly can between now and the end of the season," Porter said. "He possesses the skill sets you look for in a leadoff hitter. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes, he can play the short game, he's a run-producer and he can drive in runs."
Villar previously showcased his speed with Triple-A Oklahoma City, swiping 31 bases to go with 16 doubles and eight triples in 90 games. Combined with Jose Altuve, who stole his 23rd base of the season on Tuesday, Porter likes his current 1-2 punch at the top.
"The more guys you have in your everyday lineup that can steal bases or go first to third, it puts more pressure on the defense," Porter said. "It seems as you start to look around and have Villar and Altuve and [Brandon] Barnes and [Justin] Maxwell, you have some guys that push the envelope and put pressure on opposing pitchers."
• Despite Tuesday's loss, the A's have outscored the Astros, 76-39, this season.
• Houston embarks on a 10-game road trip after Wednesday's finale, while Oakland returns home for a 10-game homestand.
• The A's and Astros will play seven more times this season, with all of the games to be played in Oakland.