2019 in rear-view, Manaea ready to rock in '20

February 14th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- Following the three homers and four runs allowed over just two innings in the loss he took as the starter for the A’s in last year’s American League Wild Card Game against the Rays, wanted nothing to do with baseball. As a matter of fact, he distanced himself as far away from the game as he could.

“After the Wild Card Game, I was like, ‘[Heck with all this], I’m just gonna go somewhere and get lost for a little bit,’” Manaea said. “I took a month off and came back to start working out again. I think it was worth it.”

Manaea embarked on a four-week journey overseas with a trip through Asia that included stops in the Maldives and Bangkok, Thailand. He wandered the foreign streets alone, giving himself time to ponder what went wrong in that elimination game one last time before clearing his mind and hitting the reset button on his career.

“I think it helped me out in that now I’m more confident in myself knowing that I can fail and come back,” Manaea said of the Wild Card Game loss. “I’m going to use it as a springboard to get even better.”

The year did not end the way Manaea had hoped, but that one poor performance was just an outlier in an otherwise dominant campaign that was undeniably a success. He was nearly unhittable in his return from left shoulder surgery, going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA over five starts in the final month of the regular season.

He did all that with a fastball that sat around 88-90 mph, silencing the doubters who questioned whether he could return to his old form with a velocity that was about 5 mph slower from just a couple of years before.

“It makes you learn how to pitch. You can’t blow 88 by guys anymore. You have to learn how to control both sides of the plate and throw your pitches for strikes later in counts,” Manaea said. “Honestly, it’s fun. At first, when I was losing velocity, I was [upset]. Now it’s like a fun game. See how I can get guys out with 87 and 88 to 90. Imagine if I get my velocity back and have the control I have now?”

Getting his old fastball back would make him even more unfair to hitters, but A’s manager Bob Melvin believes the stuff Manaea possesses now is enough to make him a dominant pitcher.

“Very rarely do you see guys pitch at 91 and look like power pitchers,” Melvin said. “There’s such deception in his delivery and such a gap between his fastball and changeup that he gets a ton of swing and misses. It doesn’t necessarily need to be 95 mph. If he’s at 91 or 92, I have no problem with that.

“I don’t think it has affected the way he pitches. Certainly the body of work he gave us last year was fantastic. I didn’t expect that kind of success.”

After dominating that final month, Manaea changed up his offseason routine as he gears up to try to do the same over his first full season since 2018. The 28-year-old lefty used to put more of an emphasis on lifting weights to gain muscle. But he believes the key to durability comes from implementing exercises that focus less on strength and more on mobility. He also began his throwing program earlier than usual in order to enter camp with a better grasp of his mechanics.

“I used to be really into lifting heavy and getting my squat numbers up and all that stuff, but now I don’t really feel that helps that much,” Manaea said. “This offseason was more about maintaining strength and being more mobile, not necessarily lifting heavy. That only goes so far, because what’s the point of even squatting like 450? You get too big and then your muscles aren’t working correctly.”

Set to anchor a starting rotation expected to be the strength of the club, Manaea looks forward to the friendly competition that is sure to begin as soon as Cactus League action opens up Feb. 22. The best part for Manaea? All five -- Manaea, , , and -- have already established camaraderie as teammates over the past few years.

“It’s like the best thing that could happen; five friends and competitors,” Manaea said. “It’s going to be a competition, and that brings the best out in everyone. Melding into a unit and not just five individual people.

“We’re all nasty in our own ways, and this rotation is going to be disgusting.”