Aces have their place in Rangers-A’s matchup

OAKLAND, Calif. — Two teams struggling on offense will find themselves challenged by staff pitching aces Tuesday night when the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics meet for the second time in their four-game series.

Pitching dominated Monday’s series opener, with No. 5 starters Bartolo Colon and Andrew Triggs both coming up with strong performances in a game the Athletics won 3-1 by scoring late against the Texas bullpen.

Jed Lowrie’s two-run double off the Rangers’ third pitcher, left-hander Jake Diekman, produced the difference-making runs in the seventh inning.

The pitching will only get tougher in the second game, with Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels squaring off with A’s righty Kendall Graveman.

Hamels (0-1, 4.76) was a victim of the stagnant Rangers offense when beaten 4-1 by the Houston Astros on Opening Day. He wasn’t at his best in allowing five hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings, but managed to limit the Astros to three runs in part by striking out seven.

Hamels is 2-3 with a 4.39 ERA against the A’s in seven career starts, but has pitched well in Oakland, going 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in four appearances.

He’s had a tough time dealing with A’s slugger Khris Davis, who has three home runs in 12 career at-bats against the lefty.

This time around, Hamels will be facing an Athletics’ offense that has lost most of its power since getting home runs from Davis and Matt Olson on Opening Day.

They’ve hit only two more homers in the last four games, both by Matt Chapman, including a solo shot that accounted for Oakland’s only run in six innings against Colon.

Oakland’s three-run total Monday gave them 11 in their last four games.

Key newcomer Stephen Piscotty went 0-for-4 on Monday, making him 4-for-19 for the season.

That might be good enough to get him the clean-up spot in the Rangers’ lineup. Adrian Beltre took an 0-for-4 in the series opener, dropping him to .222 through five games, the same average as Texas’ No. 5 hitter, Nomar Mazara.

That’s a whole lot better than the three guys who hit immediately behind them Monday: Robinson Chirinos (.000), Rougned Odor (.063) and Ryan Rua (.083). They combined to go 1-for-11 against Triggs and the Oakland bullpen.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister might as well have been speaking for A’s skipper Bob Melvin as well when he said Monday night: “We talked about being committed to these young guys we have in-house. That’s my mind-set right now.”

Graveman (0-0, 9.00) surrendered three home runs in five innings on Opening Day, but didn’t get a decision in Oakland’s 6-5, 11-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

He’s gone 4-2 in his career against the Rangers, logging a 4.11 ERA in eight starts.

Texas got seven hits in the series opener, all singles. They’ve totaled just 10 extra-base hits, including four homers, in their first five games.

Meanwhile, the Rangers rank among baseball’s leaders in strikeouts with 51, with Chirinos (nine), Joey Gallo (eight) and Mazara (seven) combining for almost half (24).