It felt like yesterday when Sean Manaea was staring into space following the A’s devastating loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2019 AL Wild Card Game. There was steak and pasta in front of him that remained untouched as his teammates packed up their boxes.
He gave up four runs, three of them went over the fence at the Oakland Coliseum, and his first-ever postseason ERA ballooned to 18.00.
Manaea has turned into a different pitcher since then. Not just since his velocity has ticked down a bit, but his mental approach to the game as well.
“I feel like it’s changed a lot -- I’m not 23 anymore throwing like 96,” Manaea said on Thursday. “Who knows, maybe I’ll do that again this year. As far as things changing, I definitely think I have a lot more confidence in how I’m going about my business and not so much worrying about what this guy’s doing or this other guy or how this guy in a different league, how he’s performing. I just worry about how I go about my business and if I’m ready for my next start and all the work I put in.”
Following the wild-card loss, he spent time in Asia during the offseason trying to find himself again. It appeared he put more mental stress on his plate than just an untouched piece of meat.
“When you’re younger, you try to blow things out, you try to hit the gas pedal -- pedal to the metal mentality, and now I’m finessing things in a way,” Manaea added. “Like when to push the gas pedal and when to back off. Obviously, that comes with experience so ... I’m not the greatest at it, but that’s what’s changed over the last couple of years.”
Manaea said he’s been working with one of his best friends, and former college roommate Tyler Pazik of Pazik Performance Group. He’s been a detrimental factor in Manaea’s confidence.
“He’s been helping me out a lot,” Manaea said.
“The biggest thing is just believing that I’m nasty,” he added “I feel like I’m too nice -- sometimes too nice too easygoing when I need to maybe hype myself up. Those kinds of things -- honestly believing that I have disgusting stuff and I need to believe that, and use that. I don’t want to be verbal -- just how I carry myself on the mound is just like -- like I internally believe it, I guess expressing that. It’s a weird dynamic.”
It’s similar to what his former teammate, relief pitcher Liam Hendriks, once told NBC Sports California. You have to be the best pitcher in the world the moment you step on that mound. Hendriks is also similar to Manaea in that they have a laidback, approachable vibe in the clubhouse -- but you never want to face Hendriks in the box. He becomes an animal who’s about to strike you out.
Manaea wants that. He wants to get back to the form of the guy who threw a no-hitter in 2018 against the Boston Red Sox.
“Having that belief in myself -- I have confidence in myself, but times in the past like maybe I gave up five runs, or gone through injury, whatever it is, those things, slowly diminish that confidence over time,” Manea said. “I guess I’m at the point where it’s like, I don’t care about any of that stuff anymore. I’m here to go out and pitch and help this team win a World Series."