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?