Sean Manaea got shelled at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. Making just his third big-league appearance, the Oakland A’s southpaw allowed eight runs on 10 hits in just two-and-two-third innings.
The following day, I asked the promising young hurler what it feels like to stand on the mound in front of 35,000 people and get hit as hard as he did.
“It’s… I’ve never been in this situation before,” responded Manaea. “I had a really bad game n Myrtle Beach two years ago, but there were only a couple thousand people in the stands. To be here at Fenway and do that bad, and hear the hometown crowd as I walked off the field… it sucked. But it is what it is. All I can do is acknowledge that it happened and move on.”
Acknowledging what happened used to be an issue. Back when he allowed seven runs over two innings against Myrtle Beach — “The worst I’d done up until last night” — Manaea had trouble owning up to adversity.
“When things went really bad, I would be in denial,” admitted Manaea. “I was always trying to erase bad games from my mind. I would be like, ‘That didn’t happen.’
“I’d try to avoid people. I’d avoid my coaches. They’d come up to me and talk about it, but I don’t really remember those conversations. Communication-wise, I was bad. I wouldn’t look people in the eye. I shouldn’t have treated it like that. It’s not healthy.”
Things have changed for the former first-round pick. He talked over Tuesday’s bad outing with pitching coach Curt Young, and was planning to study film to better understand what went wrong. Unlike before, he wasn’t trying to hide from the truth.
“Last night happened,” acknowledged Manaeae. “I walked into the game expecting to be good and that wasn’t the case. Games like that are going to happen in my career, probably multiple times. I have to learn from my mistakes. I have to accept what happened and move on.”
Ken Giles has had to move on from multiple bad outings this year. The hard-throwing reliever has allowed two runs on five different occasions, and a dozen runs in 15 innings overall. That’s not what was expected when the Astros acquired him in a trade over the winter. In two seasons with Philadelphia, Giles had a 1.56 ERA and a 1.82 FIP.
On Thursday, I brought up my conversation with Manaea when I spoke to the former Phillie. When I told him what I’d asked the rookie — using blunter language than necessary — his response was part admonishment and part words of wisdom.
“You can’t tell someone he got his ass kicked,” Giles told me. “It’s the worst thing you can possibly say to somebody, especially a young guy. There’s no way he should feel he got demolished because he’s not good enough. You should never, ever think that way.
“Bumps in the road are something that happen to everybody. I’m back on track now, but I went through my own hiccup in April. The best pitchers in the game go through it when they’re young. They still go through it now.”
Giles struggled at time in the minors — “I definitely wasn’t lights out” — but any self doubt he encountered was quickly dispelled.
“For me, that would last one night,” said Giles. “I’d think to myself, ‘Maybe I’m not really cut out for this,’ but few hours later, I’d be back to ‘I can do this.’ Motivating yourself can be hard when you’re not having success, but you have to find a way.”
The 25-year-old righty offered a flat “No” when I asked if it’s possible to explain what it feels like to stand on the mound amid a barrage of hits. He did allow that it’s frustrating, adding that things will go south if you let the frustration get to you.
Giles told me he’s “a big adrenaline guy” and that he “feeds off the tension of close situations.” My response to hearing that was to ask if adrenaline can be detrimental when things aren’t going well.
“Not as long as you keep your mind straight,” opined Giles. “If you don’t have a clear mind, you can get eaten up. If you’re getting mad, the clouds can blind you and it will only get worse. But adrenaline is more of an energy-excitement thing than an anger thing. When you’re angry, you tense up. When you have an adrenaline rush going, you’re loose.”
Being a pitcher who feeds off adrenaline does have its challenges. When he’s pitching in a low-leverage situation, he has to “try to find that motivation, even though my adrenaline isn’t kicking in; I have to figure out how to pitch and not just throw the ball.”
Hinch caught Jones at the tail end of the latter’s career, and he remembers him fondly. The mustache and personality were notable, but it was the changeup that really stood out.
“He was your classic pitcher who pitched backwards,” said Hinch. “Doug used his changeup as his predominant pitch and his fastball as his secondary pitch. He was one of the first back-end guys who didn’t rely on velocity. By the time I caught him, his fastball was only in the mid 80s. He’d use it as a stunt pitch, late in counts, just to surprise guys.
“His changeup was really slow. He’d throw it almost like a turned over palm ball, or screwball. And he could throw it at different speeds. He could throw a changeup off of his changeup. It would range anywhere from the lower 60s to the mid 70s. In a lot of ways he was like Koji Uehara, although Uehara does it with a split, and his fastball is a little harder than Doug’s was.”
And then there was the whistle.
“Doug liked to mess with hitters in spring training,” remembered Hinch. “He’d have a whistle in his mouth. It would be like a circus act. He would blow on the whistle as he was pulling the string on a changeup. He liked to get us to laugh.”
The Astros’ manager was asked how his former teammate could get away with that.
“Nothing is illegal in spring training,” answered Hinch. “We run in the outfield during games. Plus, it wasn’t performance enhancing.”
Following Friday night’s game in Boston, Hinch told reporters, “Any time you have a big moment, David Ortiz can go ahead and take his walk to first for all I care. With all due respect to Hanley and any other hitter that’s ever hot behind him, I’m just not comfortable with Ortiz getting a big at-bat in a big moment like that.”
Hinch was between a rock and hard place both times. One pitch before Ortiz’s walk-off hit, a wild pitch moved the winning run to second, but the count was 2-2. Ordering an intentional walk with two strikes on a batter is a rare occurrence, even when that batter is David Ortiz. As Hinch told me after the game, “He’s not perfect. He’s hitting .300, not 1.000.”
On the earlier occasion, he’d have been putting the tying run on second base by intentionally walking Ortiz. That was something he didn’t want to do, and “anything that stayed in front of an outfielder was going to be in play.” Unfortunately for the Astros, the iconic slugger hit what Gregerson called “a good sinker, down and out of the strike zone” beyond the reach of centerfielder Jake Marisnick.
I asked Hinch if walking Ortiz was considered, despite the reasoned logic behind not doing so.
“Of course,” responded Hinch. “I think about all this stuff. It’s tough when it ends that way, and I’ll think about it the rest of the night.”
On Friday, a number of players and coaches weighed in on whether hitters focus better in the late innings of close games. Dale Sveum who wasn’t included in the article, had an interesting take on what happens when the game isn’t close.
“At times, hitters will lock in more for their last at bat because they’re 0 for 3,” said the Kansas City hitting coach. “And vice versa. Sometimes you’ll see a guy lose focus because he already has three hits in the game. He might try to go big in that last at bat, to put an exclamation point on his day.”
Drew Jackson will be graduating from Stanford next month with a degree in Science, Technology and Society. It’s unlikely that he’ll be putting the degree to use in the near future. The 22-year-old has slashed .335/.400/.425 since being drafted by the Mariners last year in the fifth round. He’s seen by some as Seattle’s shortstop of the future.
Jackson emerged as a top-flight prospect in his final season as a Cardinal. Known previously for his plus speed and a slick glove, he upped his average from Mendoza Line-territory to an Ichiro-like .320 as a junior.
Confidence and an approved approach were the biggest reasons behind his turnaround.
“Before, I was kind of guessing at the plate,” explained Jackson. “I was hoping to get a pitch in a certain spot, and if it wasn’t there I was either not swinging at it or taking a bad swing at it. Now, I’m just reacting to what I see. If it’s in the zone, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll put a good swing on it.”
Jackson has an aggressive approach — he has a 5.7% walk rate so far this season — but he nonetheless projects as a table setter. His power has been minimal, although part of that can be attributed to hamate surgery prior to last season. At 200 pounds, Jackson should be able fill gaps at a reasonable rate.
As for his confidence, he doesn’t view his previous lack thereof as a harbinger of things to come. The next time he scuffles, he won’t feel overmatched, which he admits to having done as an underclassman.
“I had doubt in my head, but I wouldn’t say I’m wired that way,” Jackson told me. “It’s just the fact that I hadn’t really performed in college yet. Now I’m a lot more at peace with who I am as a baseball player. I’m confident that if I trust in my ability — if I keep a level head and trust the process — everything will work out.”
MINOR LEAGUE NOTES
Carlos Asuaje is slashing .333/.364/.537 for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. The 24-year-old infielder is seen as having the lowest ceiling of the four prospects the Padres acquired from Boston in the Craig Kimbrel deal.
Brewers pitching prospect Jon Perrin — profiled here last week — was recently promoted from Wisconsin to Brevard County. The 22-year-old right-hander walked his second batter of the season in his first start with the high-A Manatees. Perrin now has 51 strikeouts in 42 innings.
Harrison Bader, St. Louis’s third-round pick last year, is leading the Double-A Texas League with a .366 batting average. The 21-year-old outfielder out of University of Florida has a .410 OBP and a .590 SLG with Springfield.
Brady Aiken, Cleveland’s first-round pick last year, is currently in Arizona finishing up his rehab protocol. The 19-year-old left-hander is throwing off a mound, but has yet to appear in a game. In all likelihood, Aiken will be assigned to the Indians’ rookie league team in Arizona this summer.
Julio Urias has a 22-inning scoreless streak and leads the Pacific Coast League with a 1.25 ERA. The 19-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers prospect is the youngest pitcher in Triple-A.
A few weeks ago, Eno Sarris wrote about pitchers and cold weather. One of the hurlers quoted in the article was Boston’s Tommy Layne, who said “the biggest problem is that you lose feeling on the tips of your fingers.”
Knuckleballers are all about fingertips and feel, so I approached Layne’s teammate, Steven Wright, to get his thoughts on pitching in frigid temperatures.
“I try to keep my hands warm in the dugout, but that’s just putting them in my pocket,” Wright told me. “I don’t want to get my hand super warm and then go out to the mound and have it freeze. That would affect the feeling of my fingers on the ball even more. But the worst weather for is rain. You can’t take a towel and dry it off between every pitch. For me, water is worse than cold.”
Prior to Friday night’s game at rainy Fenway Park, I shared Wright’s weather observations. He proceeded to allow five runs in four-and-a-third innings, by far his worst start of the season.
The Astros beat the Indians in 16 innings on Wednesday. The final score was 5-3, and perhaps the most notable aspect of the game was walk totals through 12 innings. At that point, Indians’ pitchers had walked a dozen Astros, while Astros’ pitchers had walked zero Indians.
Marwin Gonzalez was the hero for Houston, belting a walk-off home run with a man on base. A home run he’d hit five days earlier was notable as well. It was the 26th of his career, and the first that wasn’t a solo shot.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote about how some players who have flunked drug tests are seeking answers.
Writing at sonsofsamhorn.com, Mike Richmond took a scientific look at what a batter sees with his eyes wide shut.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
On Thursday, the Giants beat Zack Greinke for the first time in 12 chances. Since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958, the only other pitcher who won his first eight-or-more decisions versus the Giants was Mike Hampton, who went 10-0 before losing.
From 1970-1974, Ron Hunt struck out 137 times and was hit by a pitch 142 times. He was plunked a modern-day record 50 times in 1971 while playing with the Expos.
Fourteen MLB second basemen have a batting average of .295 or higher. No other position has more than nine with a batting average of .295 or higher (minimum 100 plate appearances).
Colin Walsh, acquired by the Brewers over the offseason in the Rule 5 draft, has just four hits in 42 at bats. Thanks to 14 walks and a HBP, he has a .333 OBP to go along with his .095 batting average. Walsh’s 33.3% swing percentage is the lowest on the team among position players.
On Wednesday, Noah Syndergaard drove in all four Mets runs with a pair of home runs in a win over the Dodgers. On August 12, 1936, right-hander Wes Ferrell drove in all six Red Sox runs with a pair of home runs in a win over Philadelphia.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.