Notes: Manaea's debut; Fiers could miss OD

March 14th, 2021

could be evolving into an entirely new pitcher this season.

Early in his career, the left-hander arrived to the big leagues pumping his fastball in the mid-90s but needing to work on his control. In recent years, a decrease in velocity forced him to improve command and learn how to truly pitch instead of throw.

On Saturday, Manaea had the best of both worlds.

Making his Cactus League debut in a 5-2 win over the Reds in Goodyear, Ariz., Manaea combined good command with an uptick in velocity to limit Cincinnati to a run on three hits and a walk, while striking out four batters across his three innings. His fastball topped out at 94 mph as the putaway pitch on a strikeout of Eugenio Suárez in the third.

“That was exciting,” Manaea said of seeing his velocity on the stadium radar. “I don’t think I’ve hit that in a long time. Everything that I’ve been working on has been coming out and my body feels great.”

Manaea implemented a workout regimen this offseason that mostly featured exercises designed to improve his mobility and durability, which led him to feel a lot more efficient with his movements prior to delivering a pitch in bullpen sessions this spring. That may have contributed to the 29-year-old consistently touching 93 mph with his heater as he closed in on the 60-pitch mark on Saturday.

Last season, Manaea’s fastball averaged 90.4 mph, per Statcast.

“I think that’s something I’ve just dealt with over my career,” Manaea said. “I did well without throwing hard for a couple of years and that really made me learn how to pitch. Having some more velo now and having learned how to pitch I think will take me a long way. I think it’s just going to keep increasing.”

There’s still work to do for Manaea, who said he limited usage of his changeup on Saturday as he continued searching for a better feel for it. But for a first start of the spring against hitters not on his own team, Manaea took a step forward as he prepares for a year the A’s expect to see him settle in as a key part of their rotation.

“It felt incredible. I was definitely a little nervous before going out there,” Manaea said. “Seeing fans and hearing them and seeing a different team was great. I felt amazing out there. I was happy with how everything went.”

Fiers questionable for Opening Day
A recent setback could leave out of the A’s starting rotation to begin the season.

Dealing with a back issue that slowed his workload early in spring, Fiers felt his back tighten up after attempting to play catch on Friday. This time, however, the right-hander indicated to manager Bob Melvin that there was also discomfort near his hip.

The A’s will shut down Fiers for an undisclosed period of time, and he will undergo an MRI exam on Sunday morning.

“There have been some games where he hasn’t felt great, but he takes the ball and he goes out there and pitches,” Melvin said. “During Spring Training, we want to get this thing right and make sure he doesn’t go out there if he doesn’t feel good. Originally, we thought it was the back, but it might be the hip now. I think the MRI is probably the prudent thing to do to see where we’re going. Opening Day might be in jeopardy for him.”

It takes a lot to keep Fiers sidelined for a long period of time. He’s been able to stay off the injured list since 2018 -- when he was a member of the Tigers -- and has made 53 starts since joining the A’s in a trade that year.

“He’d have to respond pretty quickly to get back on the mound, and if there’s anybody who can do that, it’s probably Mike,” Melvin said. “You’ve seen the durability with us since he’s been here. They’ll take a look at everything. Just speaking with him today, he felt it might be more in the hip, but we’re not sure.”

The A’s would have several options to fill Fiers’ spot in the rotation, including No. 2 prospect A.J. Puk, though he’s also being eased back from shoulder surgery last year and has only pitched in simulated games to this point in spring. Daulton Jefferies -- Oakland’s No. 4 prospect -- has impressed in his three Cactus League appearances and would be another top candidate.

Up next
The A’s return home to Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz., for a 1:05 p.m. PT game against the White Sox on Sunday. Right-hander -- Oakland’s Opening Day starter last season -- will make his Cactus League debut. The right-hander got a late start to camp due to a positive COVID-19 test. Lance Lynn will start for Chicago. Watch the game live on MLB.TV or listen on A's Cast.