OAKLAND — If all goes well for Sean Manaea in the next couple of days, the A’s plan for the rookie to return to the rotation Wednesday against Kansas City.
That would usher in the six-man rotation that manager Bob Melvin has talked about. Kendall Graveman takes the ball Saturday afternoon against the Mariners, followed by Raul Alcantara, Ross Detwiler, Jharel Cotton, Manaea and Daniel Mengden.
The A’s prefer going with six starters right now to cut back on the workload on many of their young arms late in the season, and Melvin said the team might alter the rotation a bit at some point in order to give Graveman a bit more rest. The right-hander has not only been Oakland’s best starter this season, he’s been the healthiest. That means he’s logged the most innings, a team high 163.0 entering Saturday. Last season, Graveman logged 140 in a season cut short by an oblique injury in August.
“We’ll take a look at Kendall and see if we think he needs an extra day, or we might maneuver some guys around him depending on how he feels,” Melvin said.
Manaea, returning from an upper back strain, threw 50 pitches total in the bullpen Saturday morning. Twenty of those came with Arismendy Alcantara standing in the batter’s box. Manaea also took a five-minute break to simulate more realistic game conditions. He said he threw all of his pitches, and Melvin reported his stuff was sharp.
Manaea expressed a bit of caution, saying he needed to see how he felt Sunday. But the plan is for him to throw a side session Monday and then face the Royals, the team that drafted him and traded him to the A’s last summer in exchange for Ben Zobrist.
Manaea would have three more starts if the six-man rotation works out as planned, with his first coming Wednesday. He said it’s important for him to get back on the mound and finish the season healthy. Considered the A’s top pitching prospect entering the season, Manaea is 5-9 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 games (20 starts), a rookie season that’s featured its highs and lows.
“It’s definitely had ups and downs, a little more downs than ups,” Manaea said. “But I’ve learned a lot this first season. If I didn’t get to throw the rest of this season, I’d be happy with how things turned out. I’ve learned things, just finding things out about myself.”
Manaea said he’s soaked up knowledge from veteran pitchers like Ryan Madson, John Axford, and in particular, veteran lefty Rich Hill, who was dealt to the Dodgers at the trade deadline.
“More mental stuff, how to attack hitters,” Manaea said of the lessons from Hill. “Just how he carried his business. I tried throwing his curve ball for a little bit. I don’t know how he does it.”
Manaea also will be sporting a different look in his next start. He’s recently grown a mustache that’s received mixed reviews in the clubhouse. But he’s got one ally in another pitcher who takes great pride in his facial hair.
“At first everybody thought it was terrible — except Axford,” Manaea said. “He thought it was amazing.”
Melvin said Sonny Gray would throw long toss Sunday, perhaps even get on the mound for a couple pitches. After that, Melvin plans on having an update on Gray’s schedule moving forward. It still appears a long shot that Gray, recovering from a strained forearm, would pitch in another game this season.