Sean Manaea made his long-awaited return to MLB action on Sunday against the New York Yankees. After nearly a year-long absence while he recovered from left shoulder surgery, Manaea’s first start back with the A’s was a mixed bag. All things considered, his final line was solid:
Manaea, 9/1 at NYY: 5.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5K; 82 pitches, 43 strikes
The A’s are easing Manaea back into the big leagues, and they don’t have a definitive plan for his next start. In his first start, he showed that he can be a more than capable starter and put the team in a position to win against one of the best lineups in baseball. But the lefty didn’t quite look like the Sean Manaea of old.
Manaea’s fastball velocity has steadily declined since his MLB debut in 2016. When he first broke into the big leagues, his fastball sat in the mid-nineties, but by late 2018, there were games where it averaged under 90 MPH. Concerning reports of his fastball sitting in the 88-90 MPH range emerged during his minor league rehab assignment. At 90.71 MPH, his average fastball velo on Sunday was half a tick under his 2018 season average.
But there’s reason for optimism here! In his first three innings of work, Manaea was sitting comfortably above 90. He threw his hardest pitch of the day in the first inning against leadoff hitter D.J. LeMahieu, clocked by Brooks Baseball at 94.25 MPH. It’s the hardest pitch he’s thrown since June of last season.
His changeup was down slightly from his 2018 numbers, sitting at 81.09 MPH. But interesting, his slider velocity was actually up significantly from his averages during the second half of 2018. By the eye test, it seemed sharper as well.
Perhaps most interesting about Manaea’s start was his reliance on his fastball. He threw his heater nearly 71% of the time, only topping that mark six times in his entire career prior (twice in 2018). He also threw his slider more often than his changeup, which he also did just twice in all of 2018.
His first time through the order, Manaea threw just two changeups and five sliders. But in his final two innings, as his fastball velocity dropped, he relied more heavily on his offspeed, even using it to sneak out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth (with some help from Matt Olson).
In all, Manaea’s first start back with the team went about as well as anyone could have hoped. He clearly ran out of gas after his first time through the order, and his command wasn’t quite there. But he was solid, and it was a personal victory just to make it back to a major league mound in 2019, let alone hit 94 on the gun.
He did get a bit fortunate with some of the contact he allowed, posting a slightly below average .324 xwOBA on the afternoon. But I’m not willing to make any bold conclusions after just one start. He’ll need to be able to maintain his fastball velocity as he gets deeper into the game if he wants to stick into the rotation, but I’m willing to give him at least another turn or two to see if he can.
Regardless of whether it’s in the rotation or in the bullpen, Manaea looks like he’ll pitch meaningful innings down the stretch for an A’s team in the thick of the AL Wild Card race. Welcome back, Sean!