Manaea shines in Queens debut, but Mets still seek first win

April 2nd, 2024

NEW YORK -- gets it. He's been here before.

In 2021, Manaea’s A’s lost their first six games and seven of their first eight, before reeling off 13 consecutive wins and finishing the season 10 games over .500.

Joey Wendle gets it, too. In 2018, Wendle’s Rays went 1-8 out of the blocks and were 3-12 at one point, before grabbing eight victories in a row, stabilizing themselves and going on to win 90 games.

Keep that perspective in mind, because barely 2% of the way through this season, Manaea, Wendle and the Mets are 0-4. Their latest loss occurred Monday at Citi Field, where Manaea took a no-hitter into the sixth inning but received no run support. Wendle’s 10th-inning fielding error subsequently led to a five-run rally, and that was that. The Tigers won, 5-0.

With four straight losses to open the year, the Mets understand they must guard against the old, encroaching baseball cliches: pressing, white-knuckling, trying to do too much. It helps to understand the history of teams that have stumbled to much worse starts and gone on to be just fine -- or more. Even the 1998 Yankees, widely considered the greatest team of that generation, started out 0-3.

“It’s something that can easily be fixed,” Manaea said. “It’s just righting that ship with everybody and going through it.”

Right now, the Mets are “going through it” in every sense of the phrase. One of only three winless Major League teams, the Mets are tied for last in MLB with eight total runs -- six of which they scored in a single afternoon. They have one of the league’s five worst batting averages (.188), on-base percentages (.250) and slugging percentages (.301).

Even a standout individual performance from Manaea couldn’t help them against the Tigers, who, at 4-0, are on the opposite side of things. Making his Mets debut, Manaea did not allow a baserunner until the fifth inning and didn’t allow a hit until the sixth. He struck out eight and mixed his pitches well while featuring good command and excellent velocity -- all the things that prompted the Mets to sign him after a strong second half last season.

Manaea’s no-hit bid, which lasted until there were two outs in the sixth, was the longest in franchise history by someone making his Mets debut.

“He’s a good pitcher, knows how to pitch, knows how to mess with timing of some hitters,” said Tigers catcher Carson Kelly, whose three-run homer put the game on ice in the 10th.

Manaea is also enough of a veteran to understand what an 0-4 record can do to a team’s psyche. A four-game losing streak in July or August is bad enough, but more easily disguised. A four-game losing streak over the first four games of the season? That’s a recipe for worse things to come, if something isn’t done to counteract the slide.

In the case of the 2018 Rays, as Wendle recalled it, “everybody was kind of writing us off, saying we were going to lose 100 games … [we] almost kind of took offense to that fact.

“But at some point, it just comes down to playing better baseball,” Wendle said. “At some point, you’ve got to drive in runs when you have the opportunity. You’ve got to take care of the ball. You’ve got to pitch the ball. And then from there, that kind of steamrolls. You start to get a little bit of confidence.”

Right now, no matter their mindset, the Mets haven’t produced. Manaea’s performance didn’t wind up being the spark they needed. Perhaps that will come Tuesday, during the second game of this series. Perhaps the gathered knowledge of veterans such as Manaea and Wendle can help the Mets find some better results.

If nothing else, there’s still plenty of time for the team to change course.

“We’ve just got to keep the vibes in a very good place,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, one of three Mets regulars, along with Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil, who are batting under .100. “Everybody is pulling in the same direction. Everybody is working toward the same goal.”

“At some point throughout the course of the year, you’re going to go through stretches like this,” added manager Carlos Mendoza. “It happens to be the first four games of the season.”