LAA@HOU: Albers fans two over two scoreless innings

HOUSTON -- While hardly a lockdown unit, the Astros' bullpen has contributed to the net positive from the whole Houston pitching staff this season.

But the arms are getting thin down there right now, as right-hander Matt Albers missed his third consecutive game Thursday with soreness in his throwing shoulder, manager Bo Porter said.

"Albers is one guy that's dealing with some shoulder stiffness," Porter said before the series opener against the A's. "He's been down the last couple days. He's down again today. We'll let the training staff continue to evaluate, and we'll go day to day with his situation."

Though the injury isn't believed to be serious, Porter said the longer Albers is unavailable, the more likely a 15-day disabled list stint could become.

"The longer we go, that risk can increase," Porter said. "This is the third day, so I'm not going to jump the gun yet. We'll see how he responds to treatment and hopefully things will work themselves out."

Albers, 31, declined to speak about the shoulder issue. He has been in the Astros' mix at closer this season, often pitching the eighth inning and leading the team with three holds.

He's also been the most consistent option, period, in the bullpen, with just one earned run on 10 hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts over 10 innings.

Anthony Bass would be the most likely option to assume Albers' role if the veteran doesn't return this weekend.

Clemens tossed for hitting Lowrie with pitch

OAK@HOU: Clemens ejected after plunking Lowrie

HOUSTON -- The A's dominance against the Astros is clearly getting old for Houston, and the tensions boiled over again in Thursday's 10-1 loss.

Reliever Paul Clemens was ejected for throwing at Oakland's Jed Lowrie in the seventh inning, reigniting some animosity left over from the series in Oakland last week.

Clemens was in his third inning of work after relieving starter Brett Oberholtzer and was facing Lowrie for the second time, with Oakland leading, 8-1, in the seventh.

"Just a fastball inside," Clemens said. "[Catcher Carlos Corporan] set up in, we wanted a fastball in. I didn't get behind it and I cut it."

The pitch plunked Lowrie in the backside. Despite some command problems during his outing, the hit-by-pitch seemed more than a coincidence after last week's flare-up in Oakland.

In that instance, the A's shortstop attempted a bunt to beat Houston's shift in the first inning of a game Oakland already led 7-0.

Clemens threw several pitches that landed near Lowrie's legs, and Houston manager Bo Porter even had some choice words for Lowrie after the inning before returning to the dugout and angrily shoving a cooler.

Porter was surprised that Clemens was tossed without a warning from the home-plate umpire and also denied the apparent bad blood between the teams.

"I don't see it as frustrating, I don't see it as something to get past," Porter said. "What are we getting past?

"You'd have to ask them that [if they see it as intentional]. I can't answer for somebody else."

Lowrie was more than willing to share his opinion on the incident.

"It's flat-out embarrassing," Lowrie said. "There's no other way to say it. Every perspective, every angle you look at it, it's embarrassing. That kind of conduct should be condemned.

"I still don't understand why it was made into a big deal to begin with. And then he throws at me twice in Oakland, and then throws at me again today. For a number of reasons it's embarrassing, but that in particular ... and, I had him in an at-bat before, I hit a double off him, and then he throws at me the first pitch. I've never seen anything like it. It shouldn't be condoned."

Lowrie said he had no doubt of Clemens' intent.

"It's pretty obvious that he was throwing at me on purpose for the third time," Lowrie said. "I thought it ended in Oakland. I said this then. If they want to continue to hold a grudge, that's up to them. Clearly they've taken it very personally."

"There was no carryover on my end," Clemens said. "What happened in Oakland was squashed in Oakland. Bad pitch there, and it just so happened I cut a fastball. The guy's been hot, swinging a good bat ... we wanted to let him know I'm not afraid to come inside. That happens sometimes. So be it."

Porter said all the right things, but ended his final answer regarding Clemens' intent quite cryptically.

"I think the game of baseball takes care of itself," the manager said. "George Springer got hit tonight, too. It's part of the game."

Another dismal outing against the A's and Clemens on the mound was a recipe for some fireworks. The righty again provided them, this time earning him an early shower and potentially some disciplinary action from Major League Baseball.

That would be bad news for an already-depleted Houston bullpen, as Matt Albers is dealing with a sore right shoulder and closer Josh Fields sat out Thursday's game after three straight days of work.

Fields resting after three straight days of work

HOU@SEA: Fields retires Seager for the save

HOUSTON -- Despite the walk-off three-run homer he allowed in Seattle on Wednesday, there's no doubt Josh Fields is still in the ninth-inning mix for the Astros.

He just won't be Houston's closer Thursday night. After pitching three straight days in Seattle, Fields will rest for the series opener against Oakland.

"Fields is absolutely not available today," manager Bo Porter said. "He's been worked a lot and needs the day off."

But Fields' absence did reveal what the Astros might do with the closing role when he isn't available. Porter said it will mostly be by committee, especially with Matt Albers dealing with shoulder stiffness.

"It all depends on where we're at in the lineup and who's pitched already in the game," Porter said. "I hope that's a decision I have to make, because it means we're winning."

Fields was practically unhittable for a week prior to Kyle Seager's game-winning dinger. He had allowed just one baserunner and no hits in five previous appearances.

In fact, Fields has allowed no hits in seven of his 10 appearances this season. But when teams have hit the righty, they've hit him hard.

In addition to Seattle's three runs, Toronto touched Fields for three runs on two hits and a walk on April 10, and the Angels recorded a pair of hits but no runs April 5.

Fields is expected to be available Friday.

Schedule gives Astros early look at A's, Mariners

HOU@SEA: Porter on McHugh's stellar pitching in debut

HOUSTON -- Even so far as division opponents go, the Astros are getting extra familiar with the A's and Mariners these days.

Houston is in the midst of 13 out of 15 games against Oakland and Seattle, with Thursday's series opener the seventh game of that stretch.

While so many games against division opponents is nothing new in baseball, almost exclusively playing two teams for two weeks is still an oddity.

One Astro who is happy with the familiarity is prospect George Springer, who is playing only his fourth series since being called up.

"It's an advantage to play the same teams and understand how they work and how they operate," he said. "At the same time, it's also a completely different series. They could be approaching us differently."

But with 162 total games and only four days since the teams last met, catcher Carlos Corporan said it's far more likely that the teams will have a similar approach.

"When you play a team over and over, you start getting comfortable with them, both the pitchers and hitters," Corporan said. "We've played great baseball against the Mariners and need to do better against the A's. There's no surprises."

Houston manager Bo Porter said the condensed time between series against the A's and Mariners streamlines scouting for the teams.

"We have less meetings -- no sense in meeting about a team you just played three days ago," Porter said. "We know this team pretty well. From a scouting standpoint, when you're playing the same teams in a short time frame, their pitchers are going to know our guys and our pitchers are going to know their guys and vice versa. It's less work watching film."

Corporan did say the A's and Mariners are a unique pair, though, because both teams will adjust their play from home to away due to the spacious ballparks they call home.

"[The A's] field is kind of weird with all the foul territory, and they're used to it and they play like it," Corporan said. "Then, Safeco is cold this time of year, and the ballpark plays big up there.

"There's some baserunning and defensive adjustments that will be different, but they're the same teams, still."

That would be both a good and bad thing for the Astros. Oakland is a dominant 18-4 against Houston since the two became American League West rivals last season, while the Astros are 11-11 against the Mariners dating back to 2013.

Worth noting

• The Astros deviated from their normal video-board presentation for the batting lineups Thursday night, showing the players' OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) instead of batting average during the middle innings.

• Houston hip-hop artist Bun B was on hand as part of his continued involvement with the Astros' community outreach efforts. He's consulting the organization on logo and hat designs and chatted with several players before the game, including touted rookie George Springer. The rapper also took over the Astros' team Twitter account for a game last summer.