Notes: Manaea morphs slider; Kemp stays hot

March 1st, 2020

LAS VEGAS -- needed a fix for his shaky slider that led to a rough outing in his Cactus League debut. The potential solution may have been on display in Saturday’s 8-6 split-squad win over the Indians.

An idea was sprung between Manaea and A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson during a bullpen session earlier this week. Emerson presented a new grip for the left-hander to try out when throwing the pitch, one that is tighter and basically morphs the slider into a cutter.

The result was an improvement from his last outing in which he was tagged for six runs over 1 2/3 innings. While Manaea did surrender a two-run double to Francisco Lindor on Saturday, that turned out to be his only real blemish. The lefty was much more efficient over three innings, allowing two runs on four hits and no walks with two strikeouts.

“It’s a little bit harder,” Manaea said of the new cutter. “I was throwing it at 85 mph and I’ve never thrown a slider before at 85. It was cool. Really just trying to get where I feel like I have that explosiveness. It was a big step in the right direction.”

Of his 48 pitches, Manaea said he threw the cutter about 10 times. He plans to integrate it more as Spring Training progresses.

“Especially this time of year, I need to get that feeling,” Manaea said. “Need to get that slider down because I think it’s going to be a huge pitch for me this year. The more I can throw it out here in games and bullpens, I’ll have a better feel for it once the regular season comes around.”

Whether it’s a cutter or slider, location will tell the tale for Manaea on if the pitch will be a success. Spotting the pitch resulted in a rough go of things in his first start, but there was a clear improvement in that aspect on Saturday.

“In between the last start and this start, I feel like it has improved a lot,” Manaea said of his slider location. “Just continue throwing that and getting a better feel each time. Body-wise, I felt great. Mechanically, I’m stepping in the right direction.”

Another positive to come out from Manaea’s start was his fastball. After sitting around 90-91 mph with his heater in his first spring start and most of 2019, Manaea touched 93 mph a few times on Saturday.

“Oh [heck] yeah,” Manaea said when asked if he was excited about the uptick in velocity. “Seeing a 93 up there, I was like, ‘Let's go!’ I didn’t feel like I was trying to throw hard. If it’s coming out at 93, I’ll take that for sure.”

While manager Bob Melvin was pleased to see 93 mph, he said Manaea can still be effective even if that number does not show up all the time.

“He’s been a power guy in the past,” Melvin said. “He continues to be a power guy because he gets a lot of swings and misses even at 91. He’s got some deception and there’s a big gap between his fastball and curveball.”

Kemp gets three knocks

It hasn’t taken long for to get adjusted to his new team this spring. The new A’s second baseman is off to a strong start at the plate, one that continued Saturday as he went 3-for-4 with a run scored and a walk.

“He’s been hot,” Melvin said of the left-handed-hitting Kemp. “Against both righties and lefties. He seems to be settling in at second base, too. It’s good to see. When you come to a new team, I know it’s Spring Training, but you want to make an impression. He’s definitely made that.”

Kemp is now 6-for-14 through his first five Cactus League games.

Up next

Left-hander Jesus Luzardo makes his second Cactus League start on Sunday in a 1:05 p.m. PT split-squad tilt with the Indians at Las Vegas Ballpark. Luzardo will look to follow up on a flawless first outing that saw him record two strikeouts over two scoreless innings against the Padres. Adam Plutko is scheduled to start for Cleveland. The 12:05 p.m. PT game in Surprise vs. the Royals will see Jake Diekman pitch after a starter to be announced. Fans can watch the Las Vegas game live on MLB.TV or listen to either game on Gameday Audio.