OAKLAND — With injuries ravaging the Oakland A’s pitching staff at every turn, the team has leaned heavily on starter Sean Manaea to provide stability. He is the only member of the Opening Day rotation still healthy, and he has been the team’s most effective starter with a 3.33 ERA.
Oakland, though, is trying not to overwork the left-hander, who is on track to set a career-high for innings pitched.
On Wednesday against the San Diego Padres, Manaea overcame a rocky second frame to deliver seven strong innings of two-run ball, but was taken out after just 84 pitches, marking the 11th time this year manager Bob Melvin limited him to 90 pitches or fewer. Manaea said he understood the hook even though he thinks he could have lasted at least another inning.
“It was time,” Melvin said. “We had a good bullpen. I was actually thinking of taking him out going out to the seventh.”
Manaea kept the game close, then watched from the dugout as right fielder Stephen Piscotty supplied a go-ahead two-run double in the eighth to secure a 4-2 victory. Oakland has made a habit of late rallies in recent weeks. This one brought the A’s to nine games over .500.
“There’s kind of a way we’ve been playing games here recently,” Melvin said. “Get down and come back, turn it over to the bullpen and win, and it’s been a pretty good recipe.”
The A’s have needed to use an array of unproven starters this year. The fact that journeyman right-hander Edwin Jackson is locked into a rotation spot emphasizes the level of scavenging they’ve done to find quality innings. While Jackson, to his credit, has impressed through two outings, Melvin acknowledged the right-hander would not be here if the likes of Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill weren’t hurt.
Manaea, meanwhile, entered the season as the ace and has maintained that title into July. Despite a less-explosive repertoire than usual, he impressed before exiting on Wednesday. Melvin complimented Manaea pitcher for keeping San Diego in check without his sharpest breaking ball.
The 26-year-old gave up a two-run home run in the second inning to third baseman Christian Villanueva and allowed two more hits in the frame, but he allowed just one more hit the rest of the way, cruising through the Padres lineup while fanning only two batters.
“You find out a lot about a pitcher when a particular pitch isn’t working and you’re going out there with a limited arsenal,” Melvin said. “He gives up a quick one and then he seems to come back and get back into the game. That’s maturing as a pitcher.”
Said Manaea: “Everything was working today except for the bad pitch to Villanueva. … [In the later innings] you could tell my [velocity] was dropping. I thought I could have gone back out there, but Melvin made his decision, and I respect his decision.”
At the plate, the A’s did what they’ve done so often during a stretch where they’ve won eight of nine games: Coming through with well-timed hits. Piscotty and designated hitter Khris Davis evened the score with RBI knocks in the third inning. Piscotty won the game with his bases-loaded double in the eighth against reliever Craig Stammen, and finished 3-for-4 to raise his OPS to .739 after a cold first month with the organization.
“He’s been swinging bat really well,” Melvin said. “Not just for a short period, but for an extended period now. With Stammen you really have to try inside the ball with his sinker and not try to pull and that’s exactly what he did.”