OAKLAND — The best night thus far of Sean Manaea’s rookie season sure didn’t start out that way.
The lefty said he felt out of sync during his pregame bullpen session Friday. His slider wasn’t crisp and he had no feel for his changeup.
“Sometimes that happens,” Manaea said. “After you kind of have a bad day in the ‘pen, you go out and have a good game.”
The A’s could celebrate after working 13 innings to secure a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay. But what has to have manager Bob Melvin really fired up is how he’s watching Manaea, Oakland’s prized pitching prospect, develop before his very eyes.
Manaea fired eight scoreless innings at the Rays, the latest in a string of very impressive outings. He’s thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings as a starter, sandwiching those efforts around a five-inning relief effort that impressed only because it came at a moment’s notice last Sunday when injuries knocked two A’s pitchers from the game.
But Friday night, it all came together after that shaky pregame session. Manaea struck out seven, held the Rays to five hits and didn’t issue a walk. He showed some toughness under pressure too. With his pitch count hitting triple digits in the top of the eighth, he retired Tampa Bay’s No. 2 hitter, Brandon Guyer, on a fly out to strand a runner at third and keep it a 0-0 game.
“He’s pitched some good games, but not like that,” Melvin said. “Slider, changeup, fastball to both sides — two-seamer, four-seamer. When we heard about our best pitching prospect coming up, that was the type of game you look for. That was dominant.”
Manaea, whose ERA sat at 6.02 on June 13, lowered his ERA to a season-best 4.61. Over his past three outings, covering 20.0 innings, he hasn’t issued a single walk.
But when it came to finally ending the A’s longest game of the season Friday, it took another rookie stepping to the forefront. Third baseman Ryon Healy led off the bottom of the 13th by drilling a double to the left-field corner off Dylan Floro. Two batters later, Coco Crisp brought Healy home with his line single to left-center to send the A’s into celebration.
Healy crossed home plate, and kept on sprinting all the way back toward the infield as teammates poured out of the dugout. The A’s are 5-3 since the All-Star break, with two walk-off victories included in that span. Healy has played a role in much of what’s been going right. He made two nice plays at third base Friday before sparking the winning rally.
“He’s been doing a great job,” Crisp said. “He has great personality. He comes up here as a young guy, he’s himself, and it comes across extremely well.”
Healy, like Manaea, is 24, and they represent part of what the A’s hope is a promising young core looking ahead to the future.
Healy played alongside Manaea last season with Double-A Midland after Manaea arrived in a trade from Kansas City. They also faced each other in the Cape Cod summer league in 2012. Healy estimates he was 0-for-6 against the lefty, “so I’m really happy we’re on the same team.”
Healy has seen Manaea develop on the mound.
“He's always had stuff. He's always had velocity, great secondary pitches,” Healy said. “It's really just been fine-tuning the location. I'm not a pitching expert. I don't know a whole lot about it, but you watch him throwing like he did tonight and you really open your eyes and go, 'Wow, that's special.’"