ANAHEIM — With the A’s having promoted so many fresh-faced rookies recently, it’s easy to forget how green Sean Manaea still is himself.
He earned his first call-up back in April, which makes the big lefty seem like a grizzled vet on a pitching staff that’s employed an Oakland record-tying 12 rookies total. But the 24-year-old Manaea has endured his share of bumps over the course of his 23 big league starts.
That’s what has to make his recent roll so gratifying for manager Bob Melvin and the Oakland front office. Manaea spun his third impressive start in a row Monday since coming back from a minor back ailment. But in truth, his stellar body of work extends back to before the All-Star break.
He’s showing signs of becoming the front-end starter that the A’s envisioned when they acquired him at last year’s trade deadline. And that’s a bright ray of optimism as the A’s (67-89) sputter to the finish line.
They fell 2-1 to the Angels on Monday when reliever Ryan Dull mishandled a tapper off the bat of Albert Pujols in the eighth with the bases loaded. But that didn’t diminish Manaea’s night, as he gave up just one run on four hits over seven innings.
“(He’s been) everything that we want him to be,” Melvin said. “Aside from maybe a few outings early on where he was just getting his feet wet here learning the league, he’s been borderline dominant at times ever since. Against good lineups too.
“Other than Calhoun, it’s an all right handed-hitting lineup (for the Angels). He goes through the lineup three times against them and does a great job. He did his job, and he’s been doing it for quite a while now.”
Manaea, 6-9 with a 3.89 ERA overall, acknowledged how far he’s come. The A’s planned on giving him more time to develop at Triple-A, but injuries prompted a late April promotion. His ERA was a bloated 6.02 over his first nine starts. In just four of those did he allow fewer than four earned runs. Trouble would find him quickly, before he knew how to steer clear.
But since returning from a strained forearm on June 29, Manaea has posted a 2.72 ERA with 79 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 89 1/3 innings.
“When I first came here I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Manaea said. “I didn’t have a routine. I just wasn’t really confident in myself. Going through all those ups and downs and struggles, having success, I’ve really learned a lot. And i’m just constantly trying to learn and learn from veterans and what they do.”
Dull was kicking himself for rushing on the Pujols play in the eighth, when Yunel Escobar scored the game-winning run from third. But he commented on the maturation he’s seen with Manaea.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Dull said. “This is the guy I remember watching in the spring — just go out there and dominate. Continue getting better with each start, learning how to adjust during games.”
Melvin said a key for Manaea has been the development of his slider. He threw a nasty one to Kole Calhoun to end the third.
“It was mostly fastball/changeup when he got here,” the manager said. “His changeup wasn't as good as it is right now, but the slider is the pitch that really has made him a complete pitcher at this point.”
One adjustment Manaea is still trying to make: How to handle Mike Trout, who is 3-for-4 with a homer and two walks off him. He went deep on a 3-2 pitch in the fourth Monday for the only run Manaea allowed.
“It seems like he just has my number,” Manaea said of the AL MVP candidate. “I try to throw him a changeup and he takes me deep, or a first-pitch fastball and he hits it for a single. I don’t know what to do against him. But it’s all about the learning process and it’s fun to … try to have those rivalries and just try to beat him next time.”