A's Spring Training Day 4: Slider Is Key for Manaea

MESA, Ariz. - A's left-hander Sean Manaea is working to hone his slider as a reliable third pitch as he enters his first full major league season.

On Friday, manager Bob Melvin got a look at how good that offering can be from the big lefty.

"I was really impressed with Manaea's slider today, which at times can be inconsistent for him," Melvin said. "He's good enough to get away with fastball/changeup, but if he wants to take it to another level, the slider's gonna be a big pitch for him, and he understands that. And I liked the shape of it today."

Manaea initially found the going rough after making his big league debut in late April last year, but he eventually rounded into form and posted a very respectable 3.86 ERA to go with a 7-9 record in 25 games (24 starts).

He was particularly dialed in over his final nine starts, going 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA. That has the A's confident Manaea, who turned 25 earlier this month, is ready to step up as a foundation piece of this year's rotation. But he knows he needs his breaking ball to be there for him consistently.

"It definitely makes things a lot easier," he said. "When the slider is not there, I gotta rely on the changeup as my second pitch, and that takes away that third option."

Also on his to-do list: Get more comfortable with the slide step. Last season was the first time Manaea used the slide step extensively out of the stretch, in an effort to keep runners from stealing. Using the slide step meant primarily throwing his fastball, and Manaea would like to gain confidence throwing his offside stuff while using that motion.

In another change from last year, Manaea showed up to camp with a short haircut. Last year he arrived sporting a self-described "Samo-fro" look that made the 6-foot-5 pitcher seem much taller.

NOTEWORTHY: Weather reports call for rain to pelt the desert by late Saturday morning, after forecasts initially predicted the heavy stuff to come Sunday. As a result, the A's moved up Saturday's schedule to begin earlier and get pitchers and catchers off the field by about 11 a.m. The good news is that it would seem Sunday's first full-squad workout can now unfold without interruption.

In other news, Melvin said the A's would not hold any intrasquad games before their Feb. 25 Cactus League opener, but instead would hold some simulated games in the couple days leading into exhibitions, with a pitcher facing hitters but probably no defense in the field behind him.

HEALTH UPDATE: With reliever Sean Doolittle coming off back-to-back seasons with left shoulder problems, the A's are easing the lefty into his spring schedule as a precaution. Doolittle has yet to throw off the mound but is expected to do so shortly.

"The training staff here, we keep trying new things, keep trying to develop new ways, new exercise programs to give me the best chance to stay on the field, and I appreciate all their hard work," Doolittle said in the latest episode of The A's Insider Podcast. "I feel really good where I'm at right now going into the beginning of camp and I'm excited. Hopefully the new techniques, the new mindset we have pays off."

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