Yankees mangle Manaea in sloppy fourth inning

Once again, one erratic inning from Sean Manaea cost the Athletics as the New York Yankees took a third straight in Oakland 5-1 on Saturday afternoon.

After a perfect first trip through the Yankee batting order for Manaea (L, 1-2, 7.62 ERA), a loss of command led to a four-run fourth. With the offensive flurry, New York (20-22) picked up its third straight win, moving one away from a four-game sweep, behind a strong outing from ace Masahiro Tanaka (W, 2-0, 3.24 ERA).

As had been the case in the first two games of the series, the A’s were unable to generate runs from what appeared to be solid run-scoring opportunities, going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring positions while leaving seven men on base.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Following the game, Manaea said that it was a lapse in concentration that led to a poor fourth frame:

“I think I just lost focus there a little bit… That’s completely on me, I wasn’t executing the plan that we talked about… it’s something I need to get better at.”

Through three innings, the “Throwin’ Samoan” was getting ahead of hitters, using a dominant fastball-changeup combination to blow through the Yankees on just 33 pitches.

It was almost as if a different guy came out in Manaea’s uniform in the fourth, though. A four-pitch walk to speedy lead-off man Jacoby Ellsbury was followed by an infield single and a second walk, with Manaea falling behind each hitter.

A line drive off the bat of Carlos Beltran — who has killed the A’s thus far in the series, going 7-for-14 with seven RBIs —  glanced off the glove of a leaping Marcus Semien to open the scoring with an RBI single. Yanks left fielder Aaron Hicks added a sacrifice fly two batters later for what would prove to be the winning run.

With a chance to limit the damage from what had been a bases-loaded none-out situation, Manaea was unable to put right fielder Rob Refsnyder away with two down. After getting ahead 1-2, the rookie saw six straight either miss the zone or get fouled off. Finally, on pitch No. 10, Refsnyder got a fastball up and drove a two-run double to left center, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Through his first five games, Manaea has seen is batting average against rise with each trip through the order — .209 in the first at-bats, .306 in the second and .440 in the third.

Along with limiting mental lapses, which cause the inability to control inside-outside location, the rookie said that he needs to have all three pitches working to get through the order a second, and third, time:

“They knew I wasn’t really throwing my slider, and they sat on my changeup … They definitely adjusted. For me, I’ve got to be able to throw my third pitch for a strike … I can’t just rely on fastball-change up.”

Manager Bob Melvin said he was happy with the 24 year-old’s performance. Despite the rough fourth, Melvin pointed to the hurler’s ability to settle down and get through 6-2/3 innings, matching his career high and limiting the workload for the gassed out bullpen.

The Oakland offense was unable to figure out Tanaka, who had all of his five pitches working, though he was at a lack of his normal 95 MPH heater, in seven innings of five-hit ball.

Despite setting up two separate bases-loaded less-than-two-out situations, the A’s could scratch out only one run — coming on a sacrifice fly from Danny Valencia (RBI No. 15). Playing in his first game of the season, Max Muncy was the only Oakland hitter to have a multi-hit game, with a pair of singles both of which were part of the A’s bases-loaded scoring chances.

After the game, manager Bob Melvin said that Tanaka’s lower velocity may have actually made the Yankee starter tougher to hit:

“He mixes pitches — he’s not really throwing as hard as he used to — every now and then he’ll rev one up and throw it 94, but it’s mostly 90-91. But, it’s a cutter. It’s a slider. It’s a split. It’s a curve, every now and then. He keeps you off balance. He throws a lot of breaking balls in fastball counts.”

The skipper also addressed Manaea’s lower-than-usual velocity, which dipped down to 88:

“We’ve seen good velocity. We’ve seen him try to sink the ball with a little lower velocity. I think it’s a matter of trying to sink the ball a little bit more.”

After having Josh Reddick suffer a fractured thumb, and Stephen Vogt miss Saturday’s contest following a hit by pitch in the forearm, things got bleaker for A’s as home run and RBI leader Khris Davis (12, 29) was removed and is listed as day-to-day with forearm tightness.

Jesse Hahn (1-1, 3.38 ERA) will get the ball for a Sunday matinée, needing a win to avoid the sweep. The Bronx Bombers will counter with righty Michael Pineda (1-5, 6.60 ERA), who is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA against Oakland in four career starts.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.