Since the end of the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics have found themselves in the all-too-familiar rebuilding phase. But an end to that is quickly approaching.
The reason? The cultivation of a home-field advantage (currently 17-12). Also, a duo of 25-year-old second-year standouts who have taken the reigns of the franchise’s future.
Sean Manaea is among the latter who brags a hand in the former — the southpaw starter is 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in five games at home this season, and 7-3 with a 3.08 ERA through his first full season of work. Fellow 2013 draftee Ryon Healy has made his own impression in the A’s run of success at the Oakland Coliseum. The infield corner man boasts a jaw-dropping .347/.377/.713 slash in 28 home games this season, and .305/.333/.567 in his young career — 16 of his 24 home runs through 127 games have come in the pitcher-friendly East Bay confines.
Asked if the recent emergence of the two youngsters brings encouragement for what is to come, manager Bob Melvin told SFBay:
“That’s exactly right, not only in the future but now, too.”
The now has indeed been impressive for both pitcher and hitter. Manaea is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in his last four starts, and Healy is batting .342 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in his past 20 games.
Healy in particular has given the A’s organization a thrill. In this recent run, he has raised his batting average 34 points — from .250 to .284 — and slugging percentage nearly 100 — from .434 to .530. The improvements are maximized due to the cold stretch that immediately preceded the hot streak. Said Melvin:
“The thing that stands out for me is the adjustments that he’s made this year, because he’s had to go through some struggles.”
The skipper added:
“Swinging the bat the way he is now, you can’t say enough about him, and it starts with the hard work that he does every day.”
As things stand prior to Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Healy is among the American League’s top 25 in hits (61, T-10th), doubles (14, T-11th), home runs (13, T-12th), RBIs (33, T-19th) and batting average (.284, 22nd). And those numbers, on an upswing for the better part of a month, have been juiced during Oakland’s current home stand.
In the first game of the 2017 season’s second trimester, Healy recorded his first multi-homer game, and added a pair of doubles for good measure in leading the A’s to Saturday’s 10-4 dismantling of the Washington Nationals — among the favorites to win the 2017 World Series.
He backed up the performance two days later, recording his second multi-homer game in a Monday’s 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays. Again making a mark on the back of his baseball card, Healy recorded a career-high five RBIs, knocking in all of his club’s runs, each of which were necessity for the win.
Melvin said simply, “he can hit,” adding that Healy is among those upper-echelon power hitters whose contact produces a different sound off the bat:
“Pretty cool to see what he’s accomplished for us. And, in the future, I think he’s going to be a mainstay for us.”
Manaea, who posted his AL recorded-high 16th consecutive game with five or fewer hits in two or more innings pitched, was the recipient of that win. Of his mate, the “Throwin’ Samoan” said that Healy’s ability to remain even-keel has been as important in working through the ebbs and flows of a big league hitter as the work ethic:
“It’s awesome seeing how he’s progressed this season, he’s gone through a couple ups and downs but you can’t see that in the way he carries himself.”
Manaea, himself, maintains a very even-keel demeanor, never exposing emotional explosions on the mound, and only on the rarest of occasions showing any emotion at all.
What he has done is develop the reputation of a stopper. His last two wins have come following a loss the tea’s previous time out. He was also responsible for both of the A’s wins in their most recent six-game road trip, starting then ending the trip.
Despite a sluggish start, his recent surge has moved him into the AL’s top 20 starters in opponent’s batting average (.179, 10th), WHIP (1.05, 16th) and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (10.10, 16th).
Melvin said that, along with his ability to overpower hitters with his mid-90’s fastball and slider-changeup combination, those numbers are as much about the ability to make adjustments mid-game:
“When he’s been in control early on, it seems like he dominates. When he’s not (in control) early on, and it looks like his command is a little bit off, we’ve seen him a couple times now recover.”
Adjustments — that is what has made both Manaea and Healy each emerge as stars for the 2017 A’s. That is also what offers promise of things to come. And while the next step in the growth of the green and gold is winning road games (currently 8-20), Melvin and the coaching staff can rest assured that both the offense and pitching staff hold young star around which to build a future.