OAKLAND — Sean Manaea had only gone fewer than four innings in a start once this season. He’d walked three or more men only twice — the last time coming on June 5. Manaea, with his 3.38 ERA, has been as close to an ace as the Oakland Athletics have had, in a season where they’ve sent 12 men to the mound to start.
He didn’t look the part on Tuesday. Manaea allowed eight baserunners and threw 77 pitches in just 2 2/3 frames, allowing three runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers before being yanked.
“It was just one of those nights where it didn’t look like there was much life,” said manager Bob Melvin. “They were getting some pretty good swings on him. Didn’t look like he was fooling anybody.”
For just the second time this year, Manaea failed to get through the fourth inning, and for the first time in his career, he went less than three innings with three or more walks. As the AL West-leading Houston Astros beat the San Francisco Giants for the second game in a row across the Bay, Manaea and the surging A’s failed to keep pace, falling to the Dodgers 4-2 and snapping a six-game winning streak.
The loss was just Oakland’s 11th in the past 34 games, and for Manaea, it was a rare misfire.
“Physically, [I’m] fine, pitches weren’t so much of a thing as [I] just wasn’t able to locate anything,” said Manaea, who went to a three-ball count seven times on the night. “I wasn’t able to locate my fastball, couldn’t throw my changeup for a strike. They battled with two strikes. It just adds up to a lot of pitches. Just a bad night.”
The Dodgers (62-51) got after Manaea in a 32-pitch first with a double from Justin Turner and an RBI groundout by Kiké Hernandez. They cashed in a leadoff walk to Chris Taylor in the second with a single by Yasiel Puig and a safety squeeze by ninth-place hitter Austin Barnes. Manaea allowed a leadoff single to Turner in the third, walked Matt Kemp and then allowed an RBI single to center by Cody Bellinger before being pulled.
“Running up close to 80 pitches in 2 2/3, that gets a little uncomfortable,” Melvin said. “[His control] wasn’t awful, but it was middle-of-the-plate, a little up than we’re normally used to seeing from him.”
Manaea’s slider didn’t get thrown until his 26th pitch, and he only threw one more after that.
His changeup — a pitch that got swings and misses 37.1 percent of the time last year — hasn’t been as effective this year (a whiff rate of 29.4 percent), but it was particularly dead on Tuesday, when out of 29 changeups, Manaea got just a single swinging strike.
“When I don’t have that pitch, it just makes everything easier [on the hitter],” Manaea said. “I just wasn’t able to throw it for a strike. Just a bad game.”
In his last start against Toronto on August 1, Manaea, 26, saw his fastball velocity plummet to 86 mph. While on Tuesday, there wasn’t the severe drop he saw last week, his fastball averaged 90 mph — 2.3 mph below his career average, and 1.3 mph below his season average.
“We’ve seen him have success at 88, 89, but couple that with the fact that it was a bunch of pitches, they were making him work, it was hard for him from the very beginning,” Melvin said. “He gets an extra day next time around. Hopefully that’ll be better for him.”
The A’s offense couldn’t do much against former Oakland starter Rich Hill. Hill held Oakland hitless for the first 3 1/3 innings — only a grounder to deep short by Khris Davis broke the spell — and when they did get multiple runners on for the first time, the A’s came up empty. After Hill issued walks to Stephen Piscotty and Chad Pinder to lead off the fifth, Jonathan Lucroy grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, and with a man on third, Marcus Semien popped out to short.
“He throws a lot of breaking balls, and it’s a tough breaking ball to track,” Melvin said of Hill. “He can throw it back foot, he can throw it for a strike, he can throw it backdoor, and then, kept us off balance early on with a few more fastballs maybe than we were expecting to see.”
Khris Davis finally broke through with one out in the sixth, slugging a two-run homer 420 feet over the State Farm sign in left center. Davis’s 32nd home run of the season came on an 88.2 mph fastball from Hill, ending the left-hander’s night after 5 1/3 innings, four walks and three hits.
It was Davis’s 11th homer in his last 15 games, during which he’s driven in 24 runs. The only other A’s player to match those numbers in any 15-game span was Reggie Jackson in 1969. That hit was the only one the A’s got with men in scoring position (they finished 1-for-7), as they left five men on base.
Things could have been much worse for the A’s, as the Dodgers went 2-for-12 with men in scoring position and stranded 11. The win was the first for Los Angeles at the Coliseum since July 14, 2001, and the Dodgers will have a good chance at another on Wednesday. They will send Clayton Kershaw to the mound against newly-acquired Mike Fiers, who is taking the spot of lefty Brett Anderson.