MESA, Arizona — A’s pitcher Sean Manaea seems to be taking former Dodgers manager Leo Durocher’s famous “Nice guys finish last” line to heart this spring.
Manaea, who looked sharp in his Cactus League debut Tuesday in a 5-3 win against the Rangers, said he felt his kindness to hitters last season led to an up-and-down season in 2017. It was something Manaea realized after speaking with A’s legend Dave Stewart, one of the fiercest competitors a mound has ever seen, earlier this spring.
The new mentality Manaea has for 2018? No more Mr. Nice Guy.
“I feel like I’m a little too nice sometimes and it transitions onto the field,” Manaea said. “I know if I want to be good, I have to be different.”
The 26-year-old left-hander carried that mentality into his first spring start, and the results were positive.
Manaea turned in two scoreless innings, striking out three batters while allowing just one hit and two walks on 45 pitches. Projected as the A’s No. 2 starter, pitching with an edge is something Manaea believes will be key for him this upcoming season.
“Today I was just attacking hitters and my mentality was just so much better,” Manaea said. “It’s crazy how just thinking differently can lead to good results.”
Manager Bob Melvin was pleased with the way Manaea threw, showing no lingering issues from the back tightness that kept him from making his scheduled start last week.
“I thought he was good,” Melvin said. “He ended up getting the swings and misses that we wanted to see. He used all his pitches. Starting out in a good direction for him.”
A pitcher who relied on mostly the fastball and changeup last year, Melvin said Manaea will need to show opposing hitters there is more to his game than just those two pitches.
Working to integrate his slider more often this spring, Manaea had been experimenting with different grips for it in the days leading up to his start.
He said he found the perfect placement for his fingers during Monday’s game and felt good as he threw it often in Tuesday’s start.
“It made so much of a difference,” Manaea said.
“The past couple of years I’ve been kind of searching for it. Nothing’s really just stuck with me or felt as good as it does right now. Having that third pitch is so big. The more I throw it, the more I’m gonna have confidence in it.”
PROSPECT WINS PRAISE
Jesus Luzardo, rated the No. 2 prospect in the A’s organization, garnered heavy praise from Melvin.
Called up from minor league camp to help out in the bullpen on Tuesday, Luzardo was thrust into a save situation in the ninth inning looking to preserve the 5-3 lead.
Melvin said he would have expected that type of scenario to produce high stress levels for any young pitcher, but the manager saw nothing but calmness from Luzardo as he effortlessly fired off 96 mph fastballs for strikes.
Luzardo allowed one hit and struck out a batter to earn the save.
“Didn’t look like nerves were an issue,” Melvin said. “We brought him over here trying to give him an inning. Didn’t know it was gonna be the ninth, but that was impressive.”