- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - After winning four of five since the All-Star break, the Oakland Athletics hit a wall.

Doug Fister pitched seven innings and Jose Altuve continued his torrid hitting as the Houston Astros defeated the Athletics 7-0 on Wednesday.

The Astros avoided a sweep as the A’s won their second series to start the second half.

“I don’t know whether or not we were flat today,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I think it was more Fister today than anything else.”

Fister (10-6) struck out five and allowed four hits and two walks as he continued his mastery of Oakland. He’s 3-1 with a 0.99 ERA in four starts against the A’s this season.

“Seeing them a lot, they know what we do and we know what they do,” Fister said. “It just comes down to execution, and I was going to fill the zone up.”

The A’s failed to advance a runner past second base against Fister. They moved just three runners into scoring position (one on a two-base error).

“Since the second half started we came in pretty well,” Melvin said. “There was good energy and good confidence going into game today. He just had a lot to do with” the Astros winning.

Altuve had a lot to do with the Astros winning too. Baseball’s leading hitter was 2 for 3 with two walks, improving his average from .355 to .357.

Altuve is 12 for his last 17 in his last four games.

“He’s truly a superstar in this game that I think more people are getting to know the more we play well,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

The Astros scored two runs in the second with two outs and nobody on base when five batters reached safely against A’s starter Daniel Mengden (1-5).

“He’s still trying to find his rhythm again,” Melvin said of Mengden. “I think he’s getting behind and still trying to jam all four pitches in there as opposed to trying to establish one or two early. Certainly when everything is going well it’s easy to do. When it’s not maybe you have to simplify a little bit.”

Mengden struck out five and allowed three runs, five hits and five walks in five innings. He recovered from a shaky start, blanking the Astros over the last three innings.

“I couldn’t really get in the groove for the first two innings but after that I felt a lot better and finished strong the last three,” Mengden said. “You always want to throw your best pitches, whatever pitch is working the best for you with the best conviction.

“The fastball was a little ragged today, so I think we went to the cutter and just got some tough outs. It’s a tough lineup all the way around.”

Fister is 9-3 over his last 15 starts going back to May 1. The Astros are 12-3 over that stretch.

Carlos Correa, who’s settling into his role as the Astros’ cleanup hitter nicely, was 1 for 2 with three walks and three RBI.

Jake Marisnick and George Springer had two hits each including a double and Jason Castro added a run-scoring triple as the Astros combined for 10 hits.

Josh Reddick had two of Oakland’s four hits and Daniel Coulombe allowed no hits in two shutout innings in relief of Mengden.

BAD STARTS:

The Astros and A’s rank at or near the bottom in virtually every meaningful offensive category out of the designated hitter’s spot. The Astros’ .186 and the A’s .205 batting averages going into Wednesday were the league’s two worst. The A’s DH’s were tied with the Chicago White Sox with the fewest home runs (8) and alone at the bottom with 33 RBIs. Houston’s DH’s ranked third- and fourth-worst in the league with 38 RBIs and 11 home runs.

ROSTER MOVE:

The A’s recalled utilityman Arismendy Alcantara from Triple-A Nashville before Wednesday’s game and in a corresponding move optioned LHP Dillon Overton to Nashville.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: DH Evan Gattis was pulled after getting hit by a Mengden pitch in the right hand in the fifth. X-rays taken were negative and Gattis said he’s day-to-today “but no fracture.”

Athletics: LHP Rich Hill, removed five pitches into his last start on Sunday after a blister on his left middle finger burst, is doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the next open spot in the A’s rotation with Overton’s demotion, Melvin said.

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Lance McCullers pitches a series opener against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday. McCullers has lost three of his last four decisions. He’s 1-1 with a 2.35 ERA in five career starts against the Angels, allowing one run in a 5 2/3 innings in his only start against the Angels this season.

Athletics: RHP Sonny Gray (4-8, 5.12) snapped a career-worst seven-game losing streak in his most recent start and will hope to build on that momentum on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays. Gray is 2-1 with a 3.11 ERA in six career starts against the Rays and 2-2 with a 7.01 ERA in five starts against the Eastern Division this year.

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