Sean Manaea is eager for another shot to redeem himself after struggling in his lone postseason appearance for the A’s in last year’s American League Wild Card Game. He might get that chance his next time out.
The case for Manaea to open up the postseason will be a strong one, as the left-hander turned in another quality outing in Wednesday’s 6-4 win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Allowing three runs and striking out four over six innings, Manaea finishes the regular season with a 2.65 ERA over his final six starts.
Manaea was denied a win after the Dodgers tied it up on a solo shot by Edwin Ríos off Jake Diekman in the eighth, though Ramón Laureano responded immediately with a clutch go-ahead two-run blast off former A’s teammate Blake Treinen in the ninth. The win moved the A’s up in the AL standings ahead of the Twins for the No. 2 seed.
“It’s good to enter the postseason in a good rhythm,” Laureano said. “I think the past two years, we haven’t done that. We’re just trying to get that winning culture going into the postseason.”
There were really just two mistakes made by Manaea, as all three of his runs allowed came on home runs. Cody Bellinger led off the seventh with a solo shot that ended Manaea’s night. Earlier in the game, Max Muncy roped a two-run shot in the third just a few pitches after the A’s were unable to turn what should have been an inning-ending double play on a ground ball hit by Justin Turner.
“He could have been out of [the third inning] with nothing,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He just continues to pitch better every time and goes deeper into games. Bellinger knocked him out of the game with a home run, but if we turn a double play, that’s probably the only run he gives up. He looks real confident out there with all his pitches.”
A good three-pitch mix was on display for Manaea. Of his season-high 91 pitches, he threw 56 fastballs, 21 changeups and 14 curveballs. The changeup is what seems to elevate Manaea to another level on the mound, and that pitch appeared to be at full strength as it generated 14 swinging strikes and six whiffs.
With Game 1 of the Wild Card Series in six days, Manaea would be well-rested for the potential starting assignment.
“We’ll probably talk about it next week when we get home and talk about who our starters are,” Melvin said. “He’s pitched extremely well after a slow start, which you expect out of him. He’s putting himself in position to do whatever we need him to do.”
With three earned runs on Wednesday, Manaea has not allowed more than three runs in any of his last seven starts, and five of those have seen him give up only two earned runs or fewer.
The way Manaea ended his regular season does not look much different from last September, when he went 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA over his final five starts before the Wild Card Game. But this version of Manaea carries a bit more confidence as his fastball velocity, which averaged 89.8 mph last season, is enjoying an uptick -- he averaged 91.1 mph and maxed out at 93.6 mph with the heater on Wednesday.
Manaea also has extra motivation, itching to prove he can perform under the bright lights of the postseason after lasting just two innings in last year’s disappointing Wild Card Game loss.
“I feel good, especially after today,” Manaea said. “I’m just excited to move forward and whenever my time comes, I’ll be ready.”
Bats get going
Entering the day with a .182 team batting average over the past six games, the A’s were in search of a spark on offense. Starting off the game with back-to-back doubles by Tommy La Stella and Robbie Grossman as part of a three-run first, the A’s then received a lift from a pair of hitters who needed that spark the most.
Oakland’s two-run ninth was the result of a single by Stephen Piscotty before Laureano’s two-run homer. Laureano entered the game in an 0-for-12 slump, while Piscotty was 0-for-9. Both hitters have shown an ability to go on tears at the plate in recent years, and the A’s could benefit from at least one of them getting hot as they enter the postseason.
“We need to pick it up offensively. There’s no doubt,” Melvin said. “We haven’t done a whole lot and have had some guys in slumps. Against a really good pitching staff today, to get big hits like we did was key and should add to our confidence.”