Sean Manaea has begun to look more like himself recently.
After a brutal start to the abbreviated 2020 MLB season, the A’s southpaw has found his groove as of late.
"I mean I pretty much just started believing in myself," Manaea told reporters after Thursday's 3-1 win over the Houston Astros. "Those first, I don't know how many games it was, those were tough, but they were lessons. Taking those, and really just having that confidence to go out there and battle through whatever I was going though is what I had to do, it pretty much was just believing in myself."
Manaea was unable to make it past the fifth inning in any of his first four starts, but has done so in each of his last five, including a strong seven-inning performance Thursday.
He was as efficient as they come against Houston, using an incredible 61 pitches to get through seven innings against one of the AL's better lineups.
Since pitch counts became reliable in 1988, Sean Manaea's 61 pitches is the fewest by an #Athletics pitcher in a start of 7 innings or more.— David Feldman (@dfeldy) September 10, 2020
Previous low was 68 by Todd Burns in 1990 (7 IP)
Over Manaea’s first four outings of the season, opposing players were hitting .364 off the starter and Oakland lost three of those four contests, with the one exception requiring a late go-ahead home run from catcher Austin Allen.
But over his past five starts, opposing batters are hitting just .237, and Manaea has lowered his walk and home run rates while upping his strikeout percentage.
Even before Thursday’s win over the Astros, Manaea went five innings last Saturday, allowing just one run on four hits with five strikeouts against the offensive juggernaut that has been the San Diego Padres.
The ace carried a perfect game into the top of the sixth inning Thursday, showing that the dominant ability still lives inside the 28-year-old. Manaea ended up surrendering just two hits and one earned run against the Astros, striking out four over seven innings. He’s now 4-0 over his last five appearances.
Frankie Montas was expected to be the ace in Oakland this season, and he lived up to the billing early, even earning an AL Player of the Week honor. But Montas essentially has been the inverse of Manaea in 2020, as the hurler hasn’t made it past the five-inning mark in any of his last four outings.
Manager Bob Melvin and Montas both expressed confidence that he could grow into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for Oakland this season, and potentially could be counted on to kick off a postseason series. Manaea served that role last fall, starting the 2019 AL Wild Card Game at the Coliseum against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The lefty struggled mightily, allowing three home runs and was pulled after just two innings. But if he can continue this hot streak, perhaps Manaea can redeem himself as the A’s appear destined for a division crown, owning a 6.5 game lead over the Astros. The A's magic number now sits at 11.
If Montas continues to be inconsistent, Manaea could once again be the man tasked to get the A’s a playoff win.
Hopefully for Oakland fans everywhere, this time he can deliver.