Hand clinched into a tight fist. Arms flexed in containment or rage. Steam billowing from of his open mouth as he bellowed an emotional scream while bounding off the mound:
“Let’s go! Fuck yeah.”
With a tailor-made double-play grounder, Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sean Manaea escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam to maintain a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning of an eventual 7-1 win. He responded with a rare outpouring of excitement:
“Being in that moment, and getting those big outs, that was huge. And all the emotions I had, they let out.”
After 16 days on the disabled list with a strained forearm, the hurler returned just in time to absorb the full experience of the Bay Bridge rivalry series. And with 5-2/3 innings of scoreless work he didn’t just take part, he took control, claiming a win in Wednesday’s slashing of the San Francisco Giants.
Prior to straining his pronator teres, Manaea (3-4, 5.40 ERA) had featured stretches of dominance, along with times of pure struggle.
In his return, though, there was no struggle. No inconsistency. No momentary lapse in concentration. There was only control.
All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt acknowledged the double play as the “turning point in the game,” but said that it was merely part of a much greater overall performance:
“It was the best we’ve seen him. He was hitting 96. He was throwing changeups for strikes — bouncing them. Same with his slider … He stepped up for us big.”
Manaea has developed a propensity for suffering a single laborious inning. One in which, he has admitted, lapses in concentration give way to multiple runs. That’s why the his threat-ending double play was such a momentous play — it extinguished a fire prior to any damaged being done.
That one inning — one at-bat, really — is a microcosm of the growth Manaea will need to deliver on the promise that has surrounded the youngster since he was drafted in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft.
Manager Bob Melvin spoke of that promise following Wednesday’s game:
“That was dominating stuff. That’s the stuff that you heard about, when the name Sean Manaea came up… I know he felt good about it, and so did we.”
The “Throwin’ Samoan,” who enjoyed the first scoreless outing of his young career, has work to be done beyond avoiding his troublesome big inning. Manaea has struggled to get out of his own messes, leaving his fate in the hands of the bullpen departing mid-inning in seven of his 10 starts.
Not only has he had a tough time finishing innings, he has had trouble getting late into the game — averaging 5-1/3 frames per outing.
Working deeper into games, he said, is something he has committed to. And he displayed the fruits of that mental labor, getting two outs in the sixth before his injury-shortened pitch count caused his removal.
“Eighty-five pitches, tops, I’m hoping to get five. And we got a little bit more than that, which was key for us.”
Second baseman Jed Lowrie, who contributed a two-run homer run in the victory, said he wasn’t thrilled to see the starter removed:
“(His performance was) great. I wish I could’ve seen more of it. But, you know, first start back and he’s on a pitch count. He threw the heck out of the ball. It was good to see.”
A normally aggressive Manaea was even more so in his return, firing a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 22 batters he faced (77 percent).
For the towering Hoosier, the performance is a continuation of the recent success his team has enjoyed, and he hopes will continue to enjoy:
“It’s huge (confidence-wise), especially coming against the Giants. They’re a really good team… We’re playing really good baseball. We’re trying to get back to .500.”