Manaea deals, Lowrie provides the punch as the A’s win in Seattle

April 16, 2018

MLB, Oakland Athletics

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Photo courtesy of Ken Lambert/Seattle Times

By Morris Phillips

Felix Hernandez made his 47th career start against the A’s on Sunday. From his perspective, this may have been the most frustrating.

Hernandez allowed just five hits, no walks and during one stretch, retired 13 batters in a row. He worked into the seventh inning for the first time this season, baffled the A’s with a couple of changeups, and picked off Marcus Semien, caught breaking from a base in the first inning.

Or did he?

First base umpire Carlos Torres thought not, seeing King Felix react to yelling from his dugout with a quick turn, and slightly disjointed throw to first that had Semien hung up in a rundown. Torres immediately declared a balk, but that was changed once the umpires huddled and reversed his call. A video replay showing Hernandez’s feet close up reinforced the changed call. Call it baseball’s version of a do-over as Semien was allowed to return to first as if nothing happened at all.

“I stepped off the rubber,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know what happened there. It was a weird play.”

“They’re trying to get it right, so it kind of worked out either way for us, based on the fact that Marcus was picked off,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “So if they’re saying that they got the call wrong, then they can’t call Marcus out. So I understand where they were going with it.”

Hernandez–vindicated, but bewildered by the sequence–started the next batter, Jed Lowrie, with three, consecutive balls. With 11 hits, including three homers already on the road trip, Lowrie was an obvious candidate to be swinging 3-0. Hernandez misread the situation, and saw his grooved fastball deposited into the right field bleachers.

“I didn’t know he was going to swing because he’s so patient, but he did swing and it cost us the game right there,” Hernandez admitted.

If Lowrie made King Felix pay, then A’s starter Sean Manaea was sent to collect, by fiercely protecting the early two-run lead, and turning it into a 2-1 victory, good enough to allow the A’s to avoid being swept in the three-game series.

Manaea allowed just two hits in seven innings, and one run on Taylor Motter’s solo shot in the fifth. But in the pressure of a one-run ballgame, Manaea held up, retiring the final seven batters he faced after failing with Motter.

The outing marked the third time in four starts this season Manaea has pitched into the seventh inning. Saying this could be Manaea’s finest season yet would be an understatement. The 26-year old allowed the Mariners two hits on Sunday with Kyle Seager’s fourth inning single joining Motter’s blast. Manaea walked two, doubling his walk total (four allowed) on the year.

Last season Manaea walked 55 in 158 innings. This season, he’s on pace to surpass 200 innings pitched for the first time while dramatically lowering his walk total. His struggles early in ballgames have subsided as well.  And Manaea’s ERA? Low and getting lower, with it currently standing at 1.63.

“Where I am now, solo home runs aren’t going to kill you,” Manaea said. “That’s just kind of the mindset.”

“He saves the bullpen,” said Melvin of Manaea. “He’s pitched great and won games for us. He’s had a heck of an April, for sure.”

On Sunday, the bullpen saved the bullpen as well, quite an upgrade on two meltdowns earlier in the roadtrip. Ryan Buchter got the first two outs of the eighth, and Blake Treinen followed with the final four outs of the ballgame. Neither reliever allowed a hit.

The A’s open a six-game home stand Monday at 7:05pm with Daniel Mengden facing Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox.

 

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