Bob Melvin

The biggest reason behind Sean Manaea's early success

The biggest reason behind Sean Manaea's early success

Where would the A's be without Sean Manaea?

The tall, lanky 26-year-old delivered his fourth consecutive strong outing Sunday afternoon, as the A's salvaged the series finale in Seattle, 2-1.

Manaea allowed just one run and two hits in seven masterful innings. He has given up two runs or fewer in each of his first four starts, averaging seven innings per outing with a 1.63 ERA.

“I'm definitely in a good place,” Manaea told reporters after the game. “I've just got to keep working on being consistent like I am, and take that into my upcoming starts.”

We certainly saw flashes of Manaea's ability last year, but far too often, he would succumb to the big inning. This season, he has maintained a more positive outlook, even following home runs.

Four of the five runs Manaea has allowed this year have come via the long ball, including a solo shot by Taylor Motter Sunday in the fifth inning. But Manaea immediately recovered to retire the next eight Mariners he faced, preserving Oakland's 2-1 lead.

“Last year, it was kind of like a dark spot,” Manaea admitted. “Anything that would go bad, immediately terrible thoughts would pop in my head and keep getting me further and further down. There were times where I couldn't get out of it. Just having a positive mindset and how I am right now - solo home runs aren't going to kill you - that's kind of the mindset I have.”

“I don't know where we'd be without him at this point,” added A's manager Bob Melvin. “He saves the bullpen, has pitched great and won games for us. He's had a heck of an April for us, for sure.”

To Melvin's point, Oakland's other starting pitchers have combined for an astronomical ERA of 7.03, with no starts lasting even lasting six innings.

Manaea has embraced the roll of ace, and he's done it by pitching to contact, recording just 20 strikeouts through 27 2/3 innings, but only walking four.

“He's finding a way to pitch without a 95 mph fastball,” Melvin explained. “That means keeping some balls on the ground and trying to get some early pitch contact. You can't strike anybody out until you get to two strikes. He's learning how to pitch.”

“Throwing everything for strikes and just relying on the defense,” Manaea added. “Try to get early outs and early contact, and strikeouts when we needed them. That was the game plan today. I feel like I was locating my fastball inside and out, and keeping guys off balance.”

Manaea has now pitched seven or more innings while allowing two or fewer runs in three starts this season, tied for the most in Major League Baseball. He has given up two earned runs or fewer in six straight starts, dating back to last season.

Seriously, where would the A's be without Sean Manaea?

Report: Yankees targeted Bob Melvin as potential manager

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USATSI

Report: Yankees targeted Bob Melvin as potential manager

As the New York Yankees cast their net to find their next manager, they apparently had a legitimate interest in A’s skipper Bob Melvin.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted that New York reached out to the A’s about interviewing Melvin for their vacancy but that Oakland denied the request. A team must be granted permission to interview any manager or coach who’s currently under contract with another team, and Melvin received a contract extension in September that will keep him in the A’s dugout through the 2019 season.

Though nothing obviously will happen on this front, it does bring up an interesting point: Three consecutive last-place finishes for the A’s, and a combined 212-274 record since the start of 2015, haven’t damaged Melvin’s reputation in the eyes of those around the major leagues.

He’s always been highly respected by not only his players but his peers for his baseball acumen, leadership and communication skills. Surely there’s a view around the bigs that the A’s struggles in recent seasons are due, in part at least, to all of the roster turnover that began following the Wild Card season of 2014.

A’s general manager David Forst, currently in Orlando, Fla., for the annual GM meetings, declined any comment on Rosenthal’s report.

Would Melvin have been interested in the New York job?

It stands to reason he would have. Who wouldn’t be?

Not only do the Yankees have a capability, and willingness, to spend that dwarfs that of the A’s, but in recent years they’ve also built one of the game’s deepest farm systems from which to draw on.

Melvin spent a tiny slice of his final big league season in 1994 with the Yankees. And at the time he was hired as the A’s manager in 2011, he and his family were living in Manhattan, so there’s a level of comfort for him on the East Coast.

Understand that Melvin’s one-year extension was no long-term commitment from the A’s, more a move to avoid him managing as a lame duck in 2018 had that remained the final year of his contract (though it’s worth nothing that neither Forst nor executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane are signed past 2019 either).

So it’s easy to envision that the Yankees job would have been attractive to Melvin. However, he’s also a Palo Alto native who grew up in the Bay Area and wears his passion for the A’s franchise on his sleeve.

And Melvin doesn’t hide his enthusiasm for the A’s young crop of talent that began establishing itself this past season and that looks to be the backbone of the franchise moving forward.

The main takeaway here: Though the A’s have scuffled big-time in the standings over the past three years, their manager remains quite the well-regarded and sought-after figure, at least in the eyes of one very high-profile franchise.

Ryan Christenson named bench coach as A's solidify 2018 staff

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Ryan Christenson named bench coach as A's solidify 2018 staff

Ryan Christenson has worked his way up the coaching ladder in the A’s farm system, and on Thursday he was named the team’s new major league bench coach.

The announcement makes Christenson, 43, the right-hand man for manager Bob Melvin and essentially the No. 2 man in the dugout. It also settles a position that was in flux over the course of the 2017 season. Mark Kotsay began this past season as bench coach but stepped away from the team in June to be with his family after his daughter, Sienna, suffered a serious eye injury.

Kotsay is expected to remain with the big league club in some form of non-everyday role. Chip Hale finished the season as bench coach but will now switch back to third base coach, a position he originally was hired for leading into the 2017 season. Hale also coaches Oakland’s infielders.

“At some point in time we knew Ryan was going to be here,” Melvin said. “He went through all the classifications (managing in the minors). He did well with a young group. It’s a good fit bringing him in, and he’s ready for the bench coach role. He’s done a lot of managing.”

Though the bench coach works in closest tandem with a manager throughout the game, Melvin also noted the importance of having a third-base coach that thinks right along with him and is on the same page. From that standpoint, he said having Hale in that role is important.

“Chip’s so good at third, that even though I’m used to having him on the bench, it’s tough not to use him (at third),” Melvin said. “Certainly this isn’t a demotion for Chip.”

It’s the first appointment on a major league staff for Christenson, who has spent the past five seasons managing in Oakland’s farm system, starting with low Single-A and working his way up to Triple-A Nashville this season. He led Double-A Midland to back-to-back Texas League titles in 2015-16, and his teams went 391-307 (.561) over those five seasons.

The rest of Melvin’s coaching staff will return intact in 2018. That includes pitching coach Scott Emerson, who took over that role midseason after the firing of Curt Young, and hitting coach Darren Bush. Like Christenson, Emerson and Bush both were promoted from within the farm system to their eventual spots on the big league staff.

All three men have extensive history coaching the large group of young players that are establishing themselves as the A’s core, and that’s a factor worth keeping in mind when evaluating the makeup of this staff.

Emerson, who assumed Young’s duties in June, will return as pitching coach despite the A’s staff posting a 4.67 ERA, highest by an Oakland staff since 1999. A’s pitchers also surrendered an Oakland-record 210 home runs.

“Similar to Ryan, he knows everybody, what we have here and in the minor leagues,” Melvin said of Emerson. “He’s been a good fit here and continues to be a good fit.”

Bush oversaw a group of hitters that showed improvement as the season wore on, scoring the fifth-most runs in the American League after the All-Star break. The A’s set a franchise record for strikeouts – in line with the rise in whiffs throughout the majors -- but also hit the fourth-most homers in franchise history.

Melvin’s staff is rounded out by first base coach Mike Aldrete, bullpen coach Garvin Alston and assistant hitting coach/catching coach Marcus Jensen. Steve Scarsone, who filled in as interim third base coach from June through the rest of the season, will resume his duties as a traveling instructor throughout the farm system.