Manaea's final start caps strong return to rotation

September 28th, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO -- heard the applause, though he didn’t realize what was being celebrated until he turned around and saw the accomplishment flash on the Oracle Park scoreboard. Much to his surprise, the person being lauded was himself. 

Manaea reached 1,000 career innings in the fourth frame of the Giants’ 5-2 loss to the Padres in 10 innings on Wednesday night at Oracle Park, prompting the 31-year-old lefty to bashfully raise his hands in a show of appreciation. 

“It was cool,” Manaea said. “I thought some, like, famous person was here. And then I thought it was 1,000 punchies [strikeouts] for the longest time. But yeah, that was really cool.”

The milestone was another impressive bookend for Manaea, who ended his regular season on a high note, striking out a season-high-matching eight over six-plus innings of two-run ball against his former club. Manaea pitched into the seventh for the second consecutive outing, but he was removed after surrendering a leadoff home run to Garrett Cooper that tied the game, 2-2. 

The Padres entered Wednesday 0-12 in extra innings this year, but they finally broke that remarkable stretch of futility after Xander Bogaerts knocked in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. A pair of two-out throwing errors by rookies Marco Luciano and Patrick Bailey extended the inning and put a pair of runners on for Manny Machado, who blooped a two-run single to shallow center field that stretched the Padres’ lead to 5-2.

Third baseman Wilmer Flores also made an errant throw in the third, giving the Giants a Major League-high 117 errors this season.

“A little sloppy defense there and plenty to give another team additional outs,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “You can’t win baseball games that way. Obviously, Patty and Marco are both trying to do everything they possibly can to help us win. Sometimes when you try and do a little bit too much, it backfires on you. I think that’s what happened there.”

After dropping two of three to San Diego, the Giants (78-81) slipped three games under .500 and fell to fourth place in the National League West. They’ll have to sweep the first-place Dodgers at Oracle Park this weekend to avoid their third losing season in five years under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.

The Giants have a young core of emerging rookies who they hope will lift them back into contention next year, including Bailey, Luciano and Tyler Fitzgerald, who stole his first two bases on Wednesday, but it’s unclear if Manaea will stick around to see that group continue to develop in 2024.

After regaining a regular spot in the Giants’ rotation on Sept. 12, Manaea allowed only six earned runs over 24 innings (2.25 ERA) in his final four starts, lowering his ERA to 4.44 on the season. The strong finish could compel him to test the open market again this winter, as he’ll have the ability to opt out of the remaining $12.5 million left on the two-year, $25 million deal he signed in December.

Manaea hasn’t tipped his hand on his looming decision, but he said he’s enjoyed his time with the Giants thus far.

“Loved it,” Manaea said. “I love the city. This team is amazing. As hard as it’s been, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Manaea had hoped to rebound from a disappointing 2022 campaign with the Padres and establish himself as a key member of the Giants’ rotation this year, but he lost his starting spot after recording a 7.96 ERA over his first eight outings. Kapler praised Manaea for staying “mentally tough” as he adjusted to pitching out of the bullpen, where the veteran hurler ended up working through his mechanics and learning to harness the bump in velocity he gained after training at Driveline last offseason.

“We’ve looked back a lot in the last few days over the course of his body of work dating back to kind of like the middle of the season, and it’s been exceptional,” Kapler said. “It’s been really good. Very dependable. Repeating his delivery, maintaining his stuff all the way through his outings. Being very competitive. Missing more bats than he was earlier. Fewer foul balls, which allows Sean to be more efficient. Tonight was among his best outings of the season.”

The Giants may ultimately regret not giving him a chance to return to the rotation earlier in the season, though Manaea said he believes his extended time in the bullpen will benefit him in the long run.

“This is the most amount of time I’ve spent in the bullpen,” Manaea said. “It was very hard, very difficult to mentally be there, knowing where I wanted to be. I think it ultimately helped me out. I think I tried to make the most out of it. I think that’s kind of what’s happening. At the end of the day, I think it’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”