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OAK@HOU: Colon solid in A's victory over Astros

HOUSTON -- Fresh off a 50-game suspension, Bartolo Colon channeled his old self and threw his usual array of strikes on Saturday.

There were 58 to be exact, and one happened to land in the left-field stands and bring in three runs, threatening to spoil the veteran's return to the game. Colon's teammates wouldn't allow it, though, erasing a two-run deficit with a four-run sixth to walk away with their fourth straight win, a 6-3 decision over the host Astros.

Houston has lost just as many in a row, with the A's on the verge of potentially extending their new division rivals' losing streak to five in Sunday's matinee finale.

Oakland's hitters stayed out of the spotlight in the early going of the contest, putting Colon front and center in his first regular-season action since last August, when he was disciplined for testing positive for testosterone. Naturally, he kept them busy on defense.

"I tell you, he works really quick, throws a lot of strikes and keeps you in the game," said shortstop Jed Lowrie, who helped out his new teammate with three hits. "What else can you ask for?"

Colon breezed through the first three innings, facing one over the minimum while utilizing just 33 pitches before running into trouble with two outs in a 26-pitch fourth frame. Colon offered up four consecutive hits to the Astros, including a three-run homer from Jason Castro.

The long ball temporarily wiped away a lead gained by the A's in the top half of the inning, when Coco Crisp picked up his second home run in as many days.

Houston remained on top for all of one inning, though, as the A's batted around for the second time in the series in the sixth, starting with Lowrie, who collected a leadoff homer off starter Bud Norris. Norris was pushed to 122 pitches before his departure with two outs, after Josh Donaldson poked the last one he tossed through the right side of the infield, bringing in the tying run.

"Josh's at-bat is the best at-bat of the game," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He gets behind and then works it to 3-2 and hits a slider, which ends up being a huge hit. Good starters, there are a couple of different ways to beat them. You try to get them early or you try to get their pitch counts up and get them when they're vulnerable."

The Astros then elected to bring in lefty Wesley Wright to face the right handed-hitting Derek Norris, who responded with an RBI base hit of his own to put the A's ahead, 4-3. Eric Sogard did the same, extending Oakland's lead to two.

Colon was done after six strong innings of work, giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and two strikeouts while throwing just 83 pitches. The veteran made it look easy despite having not seen a minute of video of Houston's hitters.

He wasn't even able to watch Friday night's game at the team hotel, while still being restricted from the stadium as part of his suspension, since it wasn't available on any of the local channels. So he simply threw what Norris called.

"That's the only thing I need," Colon said, smiling, through translator Ariel Prieto.

Seth Smith was responsible for the A's third solo homer of the night, a leadoff shot to left field in the eighth off southpaw Dallas Keuchel, upping Oakland's home run total to nine on the season. Only the Blue Jays, with 11, have more in the American League.

Yoenis Cespedes owns two of those homers, but he also has just one other hit spanning a total of 23 at-bats for a .130 average. He has nine strikeouts, after whiffing three times on Saturday, and in his last at-bat he experienced left elbow pain while swinging through a pitch.

After the game, Cespedes said he was fine and explained that, mechanically, he's slightly out of whack at the moment. But he assured reporters while walking away, "I'm going to get you a lot of home runs this year."

In the meantime, hitters around him, notably Lowrie, have helped pick up the slack. The shortstop notched his second three-hit day of the season on Saturday, bringing his average to .476.

"We haven't seen anything different since the first day of Spring Training, really," Melvin said. "He's swung the bat well from both sides of the plate. He's really settled in that No. 2 hole, where you know you're going to get your matchup, he can pull the ball in the hole when he has to, has some power. He's done a great job."

"I like hitting there a lot," Lowrie said. "I think it really suits my game well. I'm at my best when I'm focused on getting on base and setting the table.

"I'm confident with my swing right now, I'm working myself into good hitters' counts, and even when I get behind, I'm not trying to do too much."

Grant Balfour tossed a scoreless ninth inning to secure his first save of the season.

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