OAKLAND — The last time Sean Manaea started a game at the Oakland Coliseum was August of 2018.
After spending a full calendar year on the injured list due to shoulder surgery and making his season debut last weekend at Yankee Stadium, the left-hander made the most of his return to his home park on Sunday in a 3-1 win.
“It’s amazing,” said Manaea. “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and to go out there and throw seven innings like that was huge. Just something I was really looking forward to.”
Manaea allowed just one run and struck out 10 of the 25 batters he faced. Designated hitter Khris Davis backed up his pitcher with a two-run double and the A’s cruised in a game that barely took two hours to complete.
“It was a long road and I had a lot of time to think, and really work on the mental side of the game, and just how I project myself and how I carry myself and thinking about what I need to work on and the things I could improve on,” said Manaea. “The time off really was a blessing.”
The southpaw allowed just four baserunners all day, including two hits and two walks. One of the hits was a solo homer by Christin Stewart in the fifth inning, but overall the Tigers only hit the ball hard four times against him.
“[His velocity] looked like it was dropping a little bit, then picked back up again,“ manager Bob Melvin said. “Mixed his pitches a little bit better today. To give us seven innings, I was planning on maybe six, trying to increase the pitch count a little bit but he was able to give us seven, so that’s huge.”
Manaea didn’t show overpowering velocity, averaging just 89.8 mph on his fastball and exceeding 92 mph just five times out of 96 pitches. However, he still recorded 15 swinging strikes with his heater, including the finisher of seven of his strikeouts.
“For most guys [velocity is] important,” said Melvin. “For him it’s not as much, just because he’s so deceptive and he comes from an arm angle that guys aren’t used to seeing. And his changeup is a huge swing and miss pitch, so a lot of times they’re in front of the changeup and they’re behind the fastball. Whatever his velo is, it seems to play a little bit better, just because you’re not used to seeing that, and it kind of looks like it rises just a little bit and you see a lot of guys underneath it.”
His slider and changeup were also working, generating many more strikes, including eight swinging.
“Velo is what it is,” said Manaea. “I’m trying to throw hard again, but if it’s not there, I think it’s more about the conviction that I have with my pitches. Got a couple swings and misses with 89, and if that’s what it takes then that’s what I’ve got, so I can’t be greedy and be upset that I’m not throwing 95 or 97. I’m just working with what I’ve got.”
After Manaea’s gem, the A’s saw the return of another pitcher who had been absent recently in reliever Yusmeiro Petit. The right-hander, who last pitched on Wednesday, had been away from the team for a few days after the passing of his father, Alberto. He breezed through a scoreless eighth inning, followed by closer Liam Hendriks, who needed just 11 pitches to wrap up his 19th save of the season.
The A’s got the day’s scoring started in the first inning, when Marcus Semien led off with a double and came around on an RBI groundout by former Cal teammate Mark Canha.
The big hit came in the fourth, when Davis blasted a two-run double to plate the eventual deciding runs. Davis’ smash nearly left the yard for a homer, but bounced off the tall wall in left-center field, registering an estimated distance of 391 feet.
“That’s a big hit in the game,” said Melvin. “Maybe he didn’t have his legs underneath him completely, but he’s so strong once he lifts it in the air. At that point in time you’re looking for a sac fly at the worst, but it carries out there and just misses being a home run.”
The hit by Davis ended an 0-for-18 drought, dating back to his final at-bat the previous Sunday. The usually-reliable slugger has struggled at the plate all season, batting .216 with a .658 OPS and only 19 homers, after knocking 42 or more long balls each of the last three years.
“Contributing feels good, just to help the team win,” said Davis. “Approach always the same, get a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
With the win, the A’s kept pace in the wild card race with the Tampa Bay Rays — who hold the top spot by one game over Oakland — and the Cleveland Indians, who are 1 1/2 games behind the A’s for the second spot. They now face a big test, traveling to Houston for four games against the American League-best Astros, but those will be the final games against a winning opponent, as their final 15 contests are against teams with records of .500 or worse.