On the strength of Sean Manaea’s best major-league start, the Oakland Athletics picked up their fifth straight victory Wednesday afternoon, finishing off a sweep of the Minnesota Twins behind a 5-1 win.
With his career-high eight strikeouts, Manaea looked like the promising prospect the A’s (25-29) were expecting when he was called up on April 27. Lasting 6 innings, the “Throwin’ Samoan” allowed just five hits and one run.
In his support, the offense delivered, with all but two Oakland batters collecting at least one hit. Starter Pat Dean (L, 1-2, 4.15 ERA) was victimized in his third start with the Twins (15-37), serving up nine hits and four runs over 5 innings.
First baseman Billy Butler, who lifted his average from .203 to .241 with a red-hot home stand, said that the current streak has come down from a full team effort:
“It was consistent production up and down the lineup, today. The boys are motivated. The boys are playing together. We want to keep the streak going, and we’re playing well as a team.”
Like they have done so often in this recent run of success, the A’s made the Twins pay for a defensive blunder in the bottom of the second inning.
After a wild pitch moved Jake Smolinski and Butler to second and third base, Billy Burns chopped a 3-2 fastball just out of the reach of Dean. Twins second baseman Brian Dozier was able to field the grounder to the left of second, but was unable to get the speedy Burns at the plate, bringing home the game’s first run.
Of Butler’s ability to move up 90 feet on a ball that squirt mere feet from the Minnesota catcher, manager Bob Melvin joked:
“Speed kills. It ends up being a run for us, because (Burns) gets a big hit and that run wouldn’t have scored had (Butler) not gotten to third… It was a heads up play, he got a good jump and he got us a run.”
The 260-pound slugger known as “Country Breakfast” quipped that his play is the definition of speed killing:
“I thought it kicked away a little further (than it did), and I had a great jump and I just (being) aggressive … I know it’s different if I get thrown out there, but it got us a run. I can’t say that I get us a run with my legs too much, so I’ll take it.”
The Oakland offense followed the opening salvo with single runs in the next four frames on an RBI from Butler, a home run from Smolinski (1), a sacrifice fly from Khris Davis and an RBI single from Coco Crisp.
The benefactor of the run support, Manaea (W, 2-3, 6.16 ERA) was able to wiggle out of jams in each of the first three innings, stranding a combined five runners over the stretch. After dominant 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth — including four strikeouts — he fell back into trouble in the sixth.
With a pair of walks bracketing a single to start the inning the rookie — who in his brief big-league history has a record of single poor innings stunting his starts — faced a bases-loaded, no-out situation.
Following a sacrifice fly with back-to-back strike outs, Manaea ended the inning and his outing on a high note.
The lefty said the ability to throw all three pitches was the key to his success:
“Today was the first time I was able to throw my slider for a strike, and have it do what I wanted — have the depth. The changeup has been there, pretty much, since I started throwing it. Except for those couple walks, I felt like my fastball command was pretty good. Having all three of those pitches, and being able to throw them for strikes, was huge for me today.”
Showing he is able to work through trouble, but also work dominant quick innings, both Melvin and Manaea feel like the hurlers’s recent span of strong outings — first three quality starts coming in his past four starts — show how much he has grown over his one month as a major leaguer.
“It’s probably the best he’s pitched for us. He’s had some good outings, but other than the last inning… he had it under control. He was using all his pitches, pitching in effectively. It feels like he’s getting more and more comfortable on the mound each time.”
Despite this being the first time he’s worked with Manaea, catcher Josh Phegley said that he noticed a difference:
“You can kind of see him take a breath between each pitch. He just took it pitch-by-pitch, and he wasn’t let anything bother him — wasn’t thinking about who’s at the plate, who’s on base — he was just getting his sign and focusing on executing that pitch.”
Winning five of six, the A’s clinched their first winning home stand. They will now enjoy a day off before heading to Houston to take on the divisional rival Astros (24-29) in a three-game weekend set.