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Manaea named A's starter for Wild Card Game

October 2, 2019

OAKLAND -- The A’s know they have their work cut out against Charlie Morton and the Rays in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game, so Oakland has chosen to counter with Sean Manaea on the mound for the winner-take-all contest. A’s manager Bob Melvin and the front office had a

OAKLAND -- The A’s know they have their work cut out against Charlie Morton and the Rays in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game, so Oakland has chosen to counter with Sean Manaea on the mound for the winner-take-all contest.

A’s manager Bob Melvin and the front office had a difficult decision on their hands. Mike Fiers compiled the fifth-lowest ERA (3.24) among AL starters since April 26 and was 9-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 16 starts at the Oakland Coliseum this season (one home start was in Japan). Manaea brings a small sample size with just five starts under his belt in 2019 since returning from left shoulder surgery, but his dominance over those outings gives the A’s confidence he can replicate that success with the season on the line.

Date Result Highights
Oct. 2 TB 5, OAK 1 Watch

“We went round and round with it. We wanted to make sure everybody got their opinion out and talked in-depth about it. Mike Fiers has had an absolutely terrific season and has been great here at home,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I think it came down to the fact that since Manaea has been back, he’s pitched great every single game out. We were lucky to have two guys to consider. It’s a luxury to have two guys we’d be comfortable with.”

As a team, the Rays do not have a pronounced platoon split, which might have made the Manaea-Fiers decision more straightforward. Tampa Bay hitters posted a .761 OPS against right-handers this season (which ranked 13th in MLB) and a .748 mark against lefties (20th).

While Fiers did not draw the start, he will be on the roster as a second starting pitcher. As Melvin indicated during his press conference at the Coliseum Tuesday afternoon, though, if Fiers enters the game, the A’s likely would not be in a good spot. An appearance by Fiers would likely mean either Manaea’s outing was cut short, or the club has run out of arms in the later innings.

“When you put together a roster for the Wild Card Game, you want to make sure you dot all the I's and cross all the T’s, have guys available for every scenario,” Melvin said. “Hoepfully it doesn’t come up to where we have to use him.”

As for who will follow Manaea, going to the bullpen has, at times, has been a shaky proposition, with an A’s relief corps that led the Majors with 30 blown saves this season. Recent additions, however, have Melvin feeling a little more confident about his options in the late innings as he looks to build a bridge to All-Star closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth.

The rookie duo of A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo have brought an electric jolt to the A’s 'pen as a pair of left-handed flamethrowers who can shorten games with their ability to go multiple innings. Melvin relied heavily on these two in high leverage situations down the stretch, and he won’t shy away from them come Wednesday night.

“We’ll see how the matchups go. We had some issues with our bullpen as the season went along, but toward the end, it got better,” Melvin said. “Certainly, with Puk and Luzardo coming aboard, it’s gotten that much better. I think, confidence-wise, we feel like we have a good bullpen. Against [the Rays], anything can come up. You don’t know how many innings you’ll have to cover. Is [Luzardo] ready to pitch on three days rest? Absolutely.”

A's-Rays position-by-position breakdown

Manaea completed the regular season 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA, allowing only four earned runs over 29 2/3 innings with a 30-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Having last pitched on Thursday against the Mariners, Manaea will also enter Wednesday night on extra rest. Facing the Rays for the first time this year, he won’t enter the game trying to overthink things. He’s just as much of a mystery to Tampa’s hitters as they are to him.

“I’m just going into it like any other start and not making it any bigger,” Manaea said. “Just continue what I’ve been doing, focus on my strengths, and pitch off that.”

Manaea had plenty of time to master those strengths -- which include pinpoint command of his fastball to go with a nasty slider -- over the course of a grueling rehab process to get back the Majors.

The journey to this point has been a long one for Manaea. Around this time last year, he was walking around with his left arm in a sling, fresh off surgery to repair a torn labrum. Had his breakout 2018 campaign not been cut short, Manaea probably would have been the starter called upon for last year’s AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium, which Oakland lost.

The left-hander dreamed of getting this opportunity one day, and Manaea is ready to prove that putting the ball in his hands is the right decision as the A's search for their first postseason victory since 2013.

“This is all I think about. I picture myself on a stage like this, having fun and doing well,” Manaea said. “Spending a lot of time alone and thinking about my career, this one of those opportunities I think about a lot.”

With close to 57,000 fans expected to be in attendance Wednesday night and the game nationally televised on ESPN, Manaea won’t even try to act like he doesn’t feel the pressure. Any human would get some goosebumps on this stage.

For Manaea, it’s all about how you handle that pressure.

“There’s a lot of pressure, and you can’t shy away from that. It means everything,” Manaea said. “But it’s comforting to know that there’s guys behind me that are able to come in if something bad happens. The pressure will always be there, I just have to let it be and do what I can to help this team.”

That attitude is part of why the A’s ultimately decided on Manaea. In the midst of all the hoopla that surrounds these types of big events, Manaea brings the same personality day in and day out. The way he acts before Wednesday’s crucial game will be the same as you’d see from him for a Spring Training game, keeping the clubhouse loose with a couple of jokes and taking some free throws on the mini basketball hoop set up above his locker in the A’s clubhouse.

“He’s in the same mood every day. You can’t tell if it’s pitch day or an in-between day for him,” Melvin said. “He’s one of the guys everybody rallies around. An infectious personality, and always in a good mood. You always try to determine if you think guys are ready for that, and we think he is.”

Martin Gallegos covers the A's for Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.