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OAKLAND Brent
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, Calif. — Two pitchers who figure to have big
rooting audiences are scheduled to go head-to-head Wednesday night when the
Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics continue their three-game series.

The Astros got the jump on the A’s in the series opener Tuesday, winning 6-3
on the strength of Evan Gattis‘ career-best five RBIs and Lance McCullers Jr.’s
strong seven-inning outing.

In an attempt to beat the A’s for the seventh time in eight meetings this
season, the Astros will send right-hander Gerrit Cole (7-1, 2.16 ERA) to face
Oakland righty Paul Blackburn (1-0, 1.50).

Cole, a native of Newport Beach, Calif., near Los Angeles, has pitched
brilliantly in his home state in his major league career. The UCLA product, who
spent his first five seasons pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates before getting
dealt to the Astros over the winter, has gone 9-2 when pitching in San Diego,
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.

He’s 14-6 overall against the five California teams.

The 27-year-old joined the San Francisco Bay Area family on Nov.
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, 2016, when he married Amy Crawford, the
sister of Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. Both Amy and Brandon attended
Amador Valley High in Pleasanton, Calif., an Oakland suburb.

Cole didn’t disappoint his new fans when he pitched six strong innings,
allowing one run and four hits, in a 4-1 win at Oakland on May 9. It improved
his career record to 1-1 with a 2.75 ERA in three starts against the A’s.

Cole once again will have to deal with A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who
attended Amador Valley at the same time as the Crawfords. Piscotty has gone
6-for-21 with two doubles in his career against Cole.

Blackburn, meanwhile, starred at Heritage High in Brentwood, Calif., which is
about 40 miles northeast of Oakland.

Blackburn, acquired from the Seattle Mariners last season Womens
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, has made six starts for the A’s in Oakland,
including one this season.

He pitched brilliantly in that lone 2018 Oakland start Thursday after being
promoted from Triple-A, limiting the Kansas City Royals to one run and three
hits in six innings in a 4-1 victory.

Blackburn has never lost a home start for the A’s, going 2-0 in his six
outings.

He has never faced the Astros.

The 24-year-old admitted the season debut coupled with his family and friends
in attendance nearly got the better of him in his last start.

“I’m not usually like that,” he insisted. “I have nerves coming into every
start, but not like this was. I think it was excitement.”

Blackburn will have to deal with another A’s opponent who still commands a
favorable reception in Oakland when he goes against Astros outfielder Josh
Reddick.

Reddick, one of the A’s clubhouse leaders during his five seasons in Oakland,
was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2016 in a deal that brought
impressive young right-hander Frankie Montas to the A’s.

Reddick had two hits and scored twice Tuesday and is 4-for-11 versus the A’s
in Oakland this season.

MILWAUKEE — Four months ago, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell was
trying to figure out how to fit Jesus Aguilar onto his roster. Now, Counsell is
having a hard time taking the hard-hitting first baseman out of his starting
lineup.

Aguilar has been Milwaukee’s hottest hitter over the last month, batting .283
with 12 home runs, 34 RBIs and a .964 OPS. Five of those home runs along with 12
RBIs have come over his last five games and he’s driven in multiple runs in five
straight starts, tying a franchise record.

“He’s certainly been one of the most pleasant surprises (this
year) Authentic
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,” Counsell said. “He was last year, as well
and he’s taken it up a notch this year. You need those kind of performances you
weren’t expecting. You need that kind of stuff.”

All that from a player who came to spring training not sure if he’d have a
job when the regular season opened.

Acquired off waivers ahead of the 2017 season, Aguilar split time at first
with Eric Thames last year, forming a potent right-left platoon combo. But after
the Brewers acquired outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain over the
winter, the team planned to transition outfielder Ryan Braun as an occasional
right-handed option at first, which seemingly diminished Aguilar’s role.

He played his way onto the roster with another strong spring training and
established himself as a dangerous pinch-hitting threat before taking over first
base on a more regular basis when Thames was lost to a thumb injury on April
25.

“I’m confident in myself. When I get a chance to go, I’m going to give my 100
percent. That’s how I think.”

Thames, who’s spent the majority of his playing time in the outfield since
returning June 11, is still adjusting to the position but is happy for his
teammate.

“I mean, hey, the team is winning,” Thames said. “It was the same thing for
him the first half of last year when I was going off. It’s great because we’re
winning and today, he pretty much did it himself and it was awesome. I’m happy
for him. He works hard. He’s such a smart hitter Adidas
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, smart player. He’s a great team guy so
you can’t help but root for him.”

His bat — as well as his defensive ability — have been a source of comfort
for Brewers pitchers this season and will be Saturday for Chase Anderson, who
takes the mound for Game 2 of the Brewers’ four-game series with the Cardinals
at Miller Park.

Anderson has yet to find the consistency that led to his breakout season a
year ago. He’s 5-6 with a 4.54 ERA through his first 15 starts and has struggled
keeping the ball inside the park.

He’s allowed 15 home runs this season — one more than he gave up in all of
2017 — with 13 of those coming at Miller Park, where he’s 3-3 with a 5.70 ERA
this season.

He gave up two home runs in the opening inning his last time out, upping his
first-inning ERA this season to 8.36.

“It’s just one of those deals,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of been my thing
since I was a kid. Obviously, I need to correct it and work on it and get better
at getting guys out quicker. Something to work on.”

The Cardinals answer with right-hander Miles Mikolas, who’s 1-0 with a 6.00
ERA in two career starts against the Brewers, both of which came this
season.

He allowed four runs over 5 2/3 innings but took the victory on April 2 at
Miller Park but didn’t factor in the decision after giving up another four runs,
this time over 6 1/3 innings, in a 5-4 Cardinals loss on April 9 in St.
Louis.

“He pounds the strike zone and uses multiple pitches,” Cardinals manager Mike
Matheny said. “It’s just not every day you come across starters who can do that
… and then to have durability and consistency to stay in the game as long as he
has.”

A victory Saturday would mark Milwaukee’s second series victory over the
Cardinals in three tries this season.

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