OAKLAND — Sean Manaea walked into the Oakland Athletics home locker room on Thursday sporting a new pair of wide-rimmed specs, a Kotter-esque coif of wavy black hair and a full beard. One of his teammates remarked: “You look like the substitute teacher.”
Far from the clean-shaven, Bic-scalped ace of the A’s staff last season, Manaea has been working the past six months to get his surgically-repaired left shoulder right. This week, he’s thrown from as far out as 90 feet, twice, and will throw again on Friday. While it was anticipated Manaea would miss most — if not all — of 2019, to hear Manaea tell it, he’s anticipating that he’ll be back around the All-Star break, which could provide a big boost to an A’s rotation that’s looked as pieced-together as it was at the end of last season.
“Leave it open-ended, but sometime around the halfway point, the All-Star break, I think that’s the general date that we’re shooting for,” Manaea said. “Things could definitely change.”
The 26-year-old led the staff with a 12-9 record last season, sporting a 3.59 ERA in 27 starts with his first career no-hitter no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on April 21. All that, with his fastball velocity having dropped suddenly. It was revealed later that he had been dealing with chronic shoulder impingement for two years, but didn’t experience significant pain until late in the season. An MRI revealed a tear in his rotator cuff, and he was placed on the disabled list.
Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed a subacromial decompression, acromioplasty and posterior labral repair on Manaea’s left shoulder last September at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. The point of the procedure was to create more room within Manaea’s joint capsule and repaired his labrum.
“Everything’s feeling great,” said Manaea, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in September. “Shoulder’s feeling awesome. There’s a little soreness every once in a while, but I think it’s just something I’ve got to throw through, but overall, everything’s feeling great.”
Manaea has been throwing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a month. After his first 90-foot throwing session on Monday, then again on Tuesday, Manaea will throw again from 90 feet on Friday, and eventually move out to long toss. That’s where Daniel Gossett (Tommy John) is, throwing out to 120 feet. Then, he’ll start bullpens.
“I think it’ll be a couple months before all of that happens, but the way things are going right now, it’s looking good,” Manaea said. “[Gossett] is pretty similar, he’s a little bit ahead of me, but for the most part, we’re similar. I think I’ll be pretty close to him.”
The A’s rotation — beset by injury last season — is once again a patchwork to start 2019. With a rotator cuff strain shutting down Jesus Luzardo for another four weeks and Chris Bassitt on the injured list with a shin contusion suffered on a line drive in Japan, Oakland will start Mike Fiers in the opener, then Marco Estrada (who reportedly bought the entire team green terrycloth robes with their names and numbers on the back), up-and-down lefty Brett Anderson (whose 4.48 ERA last season was his best since 2015), Frankie Montas and Aaron Brooks, who has pitched in two big league games since 2015.
When Manaea returns, he’ll likely be one in a series of big additions, with A.J. Puk and Jharel Cotton both possibly making their big league debuts coming off of Tommy John surgery at the midway point of the season.
“The other guys that are injured, whenever they are able to come back, this team’s going to improve even more, and the fact that we all are kind of rehabbing together just builds that team chemistry,” Manaea said. “Good things can happen, for sure.”
Until then, Manaea will be doing most of his rehab in Oakland, which was his preference.
“Ever since surgery, my shoulder’s felt awesome, and I felt normal again,” Manaea said. “I don’t have any pain throwing. Just working through that progression.”