One week into the 2018 Major League Baseball season, only one starting pitcher in the league has gotten an out in the eighth in both of his starts.
Five days removed from a stellar 7-2/3-inning outing, Sean Manaea cruised through the Texas Rangers (2-5) finishing eight innings of three-hit, one-run dominance and willing the Athletics (3-4) to a 6-2 victory Wednesday night at the Oakland Coliseum.
While he has been Oakland’s workhorse, tossing a team-high 303-1/3 frames of work over the past two seasons, this is the first time in his career in which Manaea (W, 1-1, 1.15 ERA, 0.51 WHIP) has gotten an out in the eighth inning of back-to-back games. And he wasn’t exactly satisfied. He said:
“Obviously, I wanted to finish the game. But talking to BoMel (manager Bob Melvin), it wasn’t the right idea this early in the season.”
Melvin said that despite his needing just 92 pitches, and retiring the last 12 batters he faced, letting Manaea go back out for the ninth was never a consideration:
“This early in the year, there is no way I’m going to let him go out in the ninth inning. There’s residual effect from that. … He wanted to, but there was no way I was going to let him go back out there.”
Manaea relinquished control of the ninth to Yusmeiro Petit, who surrendered his first run of the season on a Shin-Soo Choo solo home run (1). But while the big lefty was in, the Texas offense appeared completely stymied — save for one lone blip, that is. But even when trouble found him, Manaea’s game-long rhythm came to his aid. With an assist from Chad Pinder.
After an infield single and walk to lead off the fifth, the only inning in which the Oakland starter faced multiple base runners, Jurickson Profar caught up to a 91-mph 1-2 fastball sending a screamer toward the right field corner.
What appeared off the bat to be a two-run double, though, proved nothing more than an opportunity for Pinder, getting the start in place of Stephen Piscotty, to show off his defensive abilities in right field.
On a dead sprint from his position pulled into the gap in right-center, the super-utility man wasn’t able to chase down the opposite-field liner until he was about 15 feet from the right field foul pole, deploying an over-the-shoulder reach to rob the two-run double.
“It was unbelievable. If he doesn’t make that catch then probably one or two guys score and it changes the entire ballgame.”
“It helps tremendously when a pitcher’s rolling and he’s got good flow, got momentum on the mound. That keeps us in the game, it keeps us moving and it keeps us fresh.”
Manaea, who has admitted on more than one occasion that he has allowed trouble to pile up knocking his game off course, had to face down some trouble from the word ‘go.’
With his fourth pitch of the night, a 1-2 fastball, the big lefty clipped the right jersey sleeve of Texas lead-off man Shin-Soo Choo. But a strikeout and double play undid the threat as quickly as it developed. Avoiding a tumble down the rabbit hole is where he has shown the most growth from his career previously to his first two nods in 2018.
Catching Manaea for the 14th time as a big leaguer, Bruce Maxwell said the 26-year-old was able to maintain a steady rhythm all night, whether there were runners on or, as was the case most of the event, not. This newfound control has come hand in hand with a renewed level of confidence. Melvin joked:
“He’s got a much firmer handshake grip right now, too, when he comes out of the game. He surprised me with that one today.”
“Having that confidence to put my foot down and know that I’m not going to let anybody else score is huge. It’s a world of difference between last year and this year.”
It is a bit easier to be confident, even with the off-speed stuff not being the greatest, as Manaea admitted to feature, when the offense gets an early lead. Like the one it got Wednesday.
Facing Doug Fister (L, 1-1, 3.12 ERA, 1.85 WHIP), the Oakland offense got on the board early pushing a run across in the second inning on a Maxwell RBI double. Aided by their starter, the A’s unpacked the runs that seem to have just arrived from Arizona. Jumping on an error charged to Texas catcher Robinson Chirinos, Oakland added four tallies in the fourth, finishing things off with a two-out, two-run single by Jed Lowrie.
That only added an emphasis to Pinder’s catch in the fifth — it helped Manaea get the shutdown inning. It also triggered a string of 12 straight retired by the A’s starter. Said Maxwell:
“We always have a grudge match against these guys. For him to come out and shut the door every inning … it was big for the team, it was big for the series.”
The A’s and Rangers finish their four-game set Thursday. Looking for a series victory, Oakland will give the ball to Daniel Mengden (0-1, 7.94 ERA, 1.412 WHIP), who has allowed five earned runs in 18 innings spanning three career starts against the Rangers (1-1). He will face Martin Pérez, making his season debut returning from a stint on the disabled list due to a broken radial head in his right elbow.
The A’s announced Wednesday that residents affected by the 2017 California wildfires will be able to attend a free game against the Kansas City Royals on June 10. VP of communications and community Catherine Aker said in a press release:
“Following the Northern California fires last fall, we saw that baseball had the ability to provide relief and healing to a community facing such devastation. We immediately took part in relief efforts, and we are proud to continue to help support these communities. North Bay Day is just another way we can give back to our fans.”
“North Bay Day” will include tributes to firefighters and first responders, along with fundraisers for nonprofit organizations supporting the North Bay. Fans with valid photo IDs including an address from one of the cities affected by the fires can claim their tickets to the event at Athletics.com/northbayday. All other fans can purchase a ticket at Athletics.com/firefighters. With a steal of second in the eighth inning, Boog Powell recorded his first stolen base in the major leagues Wednesday.