HOUSTON -- A pitcher they'd hardly heard off -- hey, Collin McHugh was 0-8 before this year, so not many people had heard of him -- dominated the A's in a 5-1 Houston win Sunday. Now Oakland is off to face the Rangers riding a two-game losing streak.

McHugh, claimed off waivers by the Astros from Colorado during the offseason, couldn't make the Astros rotation out of spring training. But he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his first big-league win to beat the Mariners last week, then was one out away from a complete-game shutout of the A's before being knocked out of the game.

"I thought he changed speeds well," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "He was good."

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 27:  Tommy Milone #57 of the Oakland Athletics throws to first base against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 27, 2014 in
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 27: Tommy Milone #57 of the Oakland Athletics throws to first base against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 27, 2014 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) ( Bob Levey )

If Donaldson wasn't exactly gushing, it was because the A's spent the day popping up against McHugh on pitches they thought they should be able to handle. He worked the corner and kept the ball down, but his 91-mph fastball wasn't generating Nolan Ryan comparisons.

"There was a lot of off-speed pitches," catcher John Jaso said of what McHugh showed him. "He pitched in and away. And when you don't have 96 (mph) in the tank, it's important to do that."

Now the A's head north for a three-game set with the Rangers, who swept Oakland in three games in the Coliseum last week. The A's send Sonny Gray against the Rangers' Yu Darvish in a battle of aces.

When the A's saw Darvish on Monday, they were coming into the game having won seven of eight and were carrying the added knowledge that they owned a 6-1 record on Darvish. For all of that, they scored just three runs in the second inning against him and wound up losing 4-3. They still have that 6-1 advantage, but two of the wins were by 1-0 scores. This time around Oakland is coming off getting two hits against a pitcher whose name Darvish probably doesn't know, either.

McHugh's pitching motion is a little unorthodox, but that hardly explains how he shackled the A's. Still, he was within an out of his first complete game and first career shutout, both vanishing with the A's second hit, an RBI single from Alberto Callaspo that ended McHugh's day.

McHugh came in with a 1-8 career record and had never pitched more than seven innings in any start. In the wake of his first win last week, the right-hander didn't take his foot off the gas pedal Sunday. He loaded the bases in the first inning, pitched out of the jam, then allowed just one base runner until the ninth when he hit Brandon Moss with a pitch with two out.

McHugh had the A's off-balance and hitting under the ball as evidenced by eight of the game's first dozen outs by A's hitters being recorded in the air. Before he was done, 14 of the 26 outs recorded while McHugh was pitching were caught in the air, six of them by infielders and four more by outfielders drifting into shallow territory.

And now, the Rangers.

"It's going to be a great pitching matchup," manager Bob Melvin said of Darvish vs. Gray.

Gray has opened the season with five consecutive quality starts, but he was perhaps least sharp in his last outing against Texas, giving up one run in the first and others in the fifth and sixth in a game the A's lost 3-0.

  • A's starter Tommy Milone allowed just four base runners in the first six innings, Jose Altuve driving in the game's first run in the fourth with a single. Both Milone and Melvin agreed this was Milone's best game of the season.

  • Dan Otero took over for Milone in the seventh with the A's down 3-0 and a man on base. Otero saw his first pitch hit 346 feet, just over the wall by Altuve. It was the first home run Otero had allowed in 632/3 big-league innings. "I would rather it had gone 800 feet than just over the fence," Otero mused. "Now I've got to say the first homer I ever gave up was hit by a 5-foot-4 guy." Altuve is listed at 5-6, for what it's worth.

  • The A's took the field for a third consecutive game without Yoenis Cespedes, who is sidelined by a left hamstring strain. Melvin said he hopes to be able to see Cespedes in left field against the Rangers.

    For more on the A's, see John Hickey's Inside the A's blog at ibabuzz.com/athletics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JHickey3.