Manaea utilizes nasty slider to dominate Dodgers

March 30th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The significance of the A's 6-4 Cactus League loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday certainly felt a bit more amplified than the average Spring Training contest.

Playing under the lights at Camelback Ranch for a night game televised on MLB Network, Sean Manaea took the mound for the A’s against a potent Dodgers lineup filled with most of its regulars.

“Getting a chance to see some of their big guys was huge,” Manaea said. “Feels like a regular-season game. Spring Training is not the end-all be-all. But to go out against a lineup like that was pretty cool.”

Navigating through the many stars that inhabit Los Angeles’ batting order, it was Manaea who stood out with a shining performance. Retiring nine straight hitters at one point, the left-hander dazzled across 5 2/3 innings as he struck out seven batters and allowed one run on two hits -- a pair of singles -- with one walk.

Manaea evaded plenty of bats; all seven of his strikeouts were swinging. Those punchouts also came in a variety of ways, as his fastball that sat 90-92 mph for most of the outing was mixed in with a snapping slider and changeup for offspeed situations.

“My sliders over the past two games have just gotten better and better,” Manaea said. “I feel like I’m really starting to rip it and not worried about placing it somewhere and trying to make it do something. I just get my grip and let it go.”

That slider was so nasty looking on Tuesday that it went viral. Shortly after he used it to strike out Max Muncy in the fourth inning, a clip of the pitch was sent out through social media by the famed @PitchingNinja Twitter account. The video had already reached over 20,000 views only an hour after it was posted.

“That one was good,” Manaea said. “Just that feeling of how it came out of my hand and the action, that was really good.”

Behind the plate making his first Cactus League start was Stephen Vogt, who returned to the A’s earlier this month on a one-year deal. Vogt’s first start behind the plate this spring with Manaea on the mound is a bit of a full-circle moment. When Manaea made his Major League debut on April 29, 2016, against the Astros, it was Vogt who was his batterymate trying to ease the nerves of a young rookie.

“It’s been a minute,” Manaea said. “We had a talk before the game and just implemented that game plan. Just kept it simple. He threw down a sign and there might have been one or two pitches I shook off. It was great.”

With only a week of Spring Training games left, A’s manager Mark Kotsay has kept his plans for an Opening Day starter under wraps. The way the pitching order currently lines up, Oakland’s season-opener on April 8 in Philadelphia would fall on Manaea’s turn to start.

Yet to receive an Opening Day assignment in his career, the 30-year-old lefty said he would embrace such a special honor. However, his focus is centered on making one more Spring Training start, which is likely to come on Sunday against the Padres.

“I’ve never done it before, so that would be really cool,” Manaea said. “But that’s still in the future and I’m not really worried about any of that stuff.”

Pache’s Opening Day chance

The defensive aspect of Cristian Pache’s game is undoubtedly ready for the Major Leagues, with scouts predicting multiple Gold Gloves in his future. The big question has always been whether he can hit at the highest level.

The A’s are searching for that answer.

Oakland’s center field job to begin the regular season is currently up for grabs with Ramón Laureano serving out the final 27 games of his suspension. Pache, the club’s No. 4 prospect, is an ideal candidate to take over that spot. But first, he must show that his bat is capable of handling that everyday role.

Pache went 0-for-3 with a walk on Tuesday. His 25 at-bats are the most among A’s hitters this spring, as the club aims to get as good of a look at his offensive approach as it can before making a final decision on his Opening Day destination.

The overall numbers aren’t great -- his batting average is down to .160 through nine games. Beyond the numbers, though, the A’s have seen signs of an improved bat.

“He’s working continually with our hitting coaches,” Kotsay said. “He obviously has power. At this point, we’re evaluating the whole approach of the hitting aspect.”