The A’s think highly of the five pitchers who comprise their starting rotation, but there is no official “ace” of the staff.
Sean Manaea might be ready to assume that mantle.
After the A’s saw their impressive 13-game winning streak snapped on Sunday, Manaea got them back on track with another solid outing in Monday’s 2-1 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field. The left-hander allowed just one run on four hits and two walks while striking out six batters over five innings. His only run surrendered came on a sacrifice fly in the first.
Manaea has quickly put his rough first start of the season in the rearview mirror. The A’s are 4-0 in his last four starts, with Manaea allowing just four runs in 24 innings. Going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 24 strikeouts with just four walks during that stretch, the 29-year-old lefty has developed as the most reliable starter for manager Bob Melvin so far in April.
“He’s been great,” Melvin said. “Real good feel for what he’s trying to do and pitching out of jams when he has to. He didn’t really let them center too many balls. It was a really consistent performance, and we’ve seen that from him for the better part of a month now.”
Manaea utilized his offspeed pitches more than usual, with his changeup and curveball comprising 40 percent of his pitches. Those two pitches were also used as the putaway pitch on five of his six strikeouts, all five of which were of the swinging variety.
Finding himself in a couple of jams on Monday, Manaea was provided a major assist from Stephen Piscotty in the third. Already facing a 1-0 deficit, the Rays were threatening to add on with two runners on and two outs when Manuel Margot blooped a 1-2 sinker from Manaea into shallow right field. Playing deep, Piscotty raced in and made a tremendous diving catch that likely saved at least one run from scoring.
“I’ve tried that play before in BP and can tell you firsthand, it’s not easy at all,” Manaea said. “The fact that he did that here where it’s tough with the roof -- it’s just crazy how he did it. If he doesn’t catch that ball, things could end up way worse. That was huge.”
It was hard not to get flashbacks of the 2019 American League Wild Card Game on Monday. Making his first start against Tampa Bay since taking the loss on that disappointing night at the Oakland Coliseum nearly two years ago, Manaea admitted that he’ll always remember that game when facing the Rays going forward.
This start doesn’t necessarily exact revenge for what happened two Octobers ago for Manaea, but it does provide him a reminder of how much he’s grown as a pitcher since that learning experience.
This version of Manaea carries a little more swagger to the mound -- a belief that he can get the job done, no matter how high the stakes are.
“During that game, I was second-guessing and didn’t have the best confidence in me” Manaea said. “In the back of my mind, that game will always be with me whenever I face these guys. It was nice to come in here and pitch OK against them.”
On a night where the A’s offense collected just three hits, one swing of the bat from Sean Murphy provided just enough support. He crushed a go-ahead two-run homer off Rays starter Rich Hill in the fourth, becoming the first Oakland catcher to account for all of the team’s runs in a win since Stephen Vogt’s two-run homer in a 2-0 win over Cleveland on July 12, 2015.
With Manaea exiting a bit earlier than usual due to his pitch count rising to 100 through five innings, the A’s bullpen shut the door in impressive fashion. The trio of Yusmeiro Petit, Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino combined for four scoreless innings of relief, with Trivino notching his third save of the year. The scoreless effort marked the eighth time Oakland's bullpen has not allowed a run in the last 11 games.
“That’s how you win games like that,” Melvin said. “Close games with good pitching on both ends typically come down to a big hit or good defensive plays. We were just a little bit better at that tonight.”