Manaea, bullpen can't hit the brakes as A's squander big lead

Manaea, bullpen can't hit the brakes as A's squander big lead

OAKLAND — Sean Manaea said the blame for Saturday’s loss fell on him.

A couple lockers down from him, Sean Doolittle was talking about how he and his fellow relievers need to do a better job when entering tough situations.

On a day that produced so much dysfunction on the diamond, at least the A’s were in sharp form afterward in trying to accept responsibility.

They lost for the second straight day to the Astros on Saturday, 10-6, and did so in ugly fashion, blowing what was a 5-0 lead at one point. There were two costly errors and some missed opportunities on offense, but the biggest breakdowns came on the pitching side.

Handing a five-run lead to Manaea usually seems a sure route to victory. But after he tossed five scoreless (and hitless) innings, things went downhill quickly for the left-hander. He walked the first three batters of the sixth, throwing eight balls in a row at one point, and then gave up Carlos Correa’s line drive that got past shortstop Adam Rosales, a play on which the A’s got charged for two errors and let two runs score.

“We played the first half of the game really well, and probably as poorly as we could play the second half of the game,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Manaea’s sizable natural ability has shined through at times over his first three starts — the Astros still hadn’t registered a hit off him when he was pulled after five-plus innings. But he couldn’t recover after he lost command of the strike zone, and he piled up 98 pitches and forced Melvin to call on his bullpen early.

“Today was a tough one,” Manaea said. “It’s completely on me. Everybody’s just sitting around waiting, long innings, and I’m putting the bullpen in a bad situation like that. For me, it’s really a mental thing.”

Manaea actually lowered his ERA from 7.15 to 5.51, but the A’s need consistency from their No. 2 starter to bolster a rotation that’s been without Sonny Gray and saw Kendall Graveman leave Friday’s start early for health reasons.

It was still a 5-2 game when Melvin went to his bullpen, but rather than restore order, the relievers let things skid completely off-course. Liam Hendriks, Santiago Casilla, Doolittle and Frankie Montas combined to allow eight runs over the final three innings.

“It just kind of snowballed on us,” Doolittle said. “I guess the silver lining here is we all kind of had a bad day at once. Hopefully we got it out of our system. There’s some guys coming into tough spots with guys on base. We gotta be better coming into games in those situations and making pitches and picking each other up.”

Any team can rebound from a 5-7 start and spotty play early on. What the A’s truly can’t afford is bad news on the injury front for a couple of their cornerstones. Shortstop Marcus Semien missed Saturday’s game and will be sidelined at least a couple more days with what’s been diagnosed as a bone contusion in his right wrist. He underwent an MRI on Saturday, but a CT scan Monday should provide more clarity on how serious the injury is.

Semien said his wrist has bothered him since late in spring training. He’s played through the discomfort, and it was only hindering him swinging the bat until Friday night, when he felt it throwing during batting practice.

A bit of mystery also surrounds Graveman after he left Friday’s start early. He explained Saturday that he had trouble getting his entire body loose. Asked if it was accurate to say it was an arm issue, Graveman said no. Whatever the case, both he and Melvin expressed hope he would be OK for his next start Wednesday.

The A’s could use a dose of good news when they take the field Sunday looking to avoid a sweep.

Doolittle spoke of the bullpen specifically with the following quote, but could have been referring to his entire team about Saturday’s loss.

“That was so bad that we just gotta turn the page, leave it here, flush it and get back to work tomorrow.”

 

Alonso strikes a chord with fascinating account of Cuba defection

Alonso strikes a chord with fascinating account of Cuba defection

ANAHEIM — As Yonder Alonso was preparing for the 2017 season last winter, he was tackling another challenge too.

Over the course of three months, the A’s first baseman gathered his thoughts and pieced together a fascinating first-person account for The Players’ Tribune about his childhood experience defecting from Cuba with his parents and younger sister.

Alonso framed the article as him penning a letter to his 8-year-old self, describing the grueling struggle he and his family would go through while reassuring his younger self that it would all be worth it when he finally made it as a major leaguer. Alonso describes in vivid detail the hardships he went through, caring for his sister, Yainee, at night as they dined on meals of microwaved hot dogs and microwaved eggs, while his parents were away from home working multiple jobs to support their family.

Alonso goes on to describe how he would return from college baseball road trips, while he was attending the University of Miami, and immediately head to a night job to help his father clean warehouses and scrub bathrooms.

The story struck a chord within the A’s clubhouse but also among so many people from the Miami area, where Alonso’s family settled after they defected. Alonso said he’s received text messages from many of them.

“I think everybody in this locker room, or any locker room, they definitely have a story to tell,” Alonso said. “And I think it’s awesome when you see a guy just kind of open up a little bit. I’m (usually) not one to open up.”

Athletes are used to reporters peppering them with questions and trying to draw stories out of them. Seldom do athletes take to penning their own story.

Representatives from The Players’ Tribune, an online publication started by Derek Jeter in 2014, reached out to Alonso in early December about writing something. Alonso had a trip planned to Cuba for later that month, before any request for an article came, and his return visit to his native country helped persuade him to go through with it.

“I saw a lot of people,” he said. “For me it was very touching. For my wife as well.”

Alonso met with an editor from The Players’ Tribune during spring training, and they began hashing out ideas. Alonso said he wrote the story himself with assistance from the editor.

“We had ideas, different ways of going about it,” he said. “I think from day one I knew the way I wanted to write it and how I wanted it to come out, which is a letter to my younger self.”

Even after finishing the project three weeks ago, Alonso said he wasn’t sure he wanted to share it publicly. He showed the article to some friends and teammates, including A’s reliever Sean Doolittle and outfielder Matt Joyce. After reading the piece, Joyce strongly persuaded Alonso to carry through with it.

“I told him it was awesome,” Joyce said. “From my perspective, you don’t really get a good sense of what those guys go through, coming over to the States. You just see them later. So to kind of read it in his own words, it was a really cool perspective and a good story to see what a kid across the water, from a different country, goes through to get to this point. I think it’s a very powerful story and message.”

Alonso said his motivation was simple.

“Just letting my family know, and people in this world know, that if you want to strive for something, it can be tough at times. But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

ANAHEIM — Sean Manaea is hopeful his left shoulder injury isn’t serious, but the A’s likely won’t have a full read on the starter’s condition for a couple days.

As of Wednesday night, no MRI was scheduled after Manaea left after just two innings of an eventual 8-5 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels with tightness in his shoulder.

“I felt it a little bit in the bullpen,” Manaea said. “I thought it was just one of those days where it took me longer to warm up, and that just wasn’t the case. It’s just really unfortunate.”

Just as the A’s are about to welcome Kendall Graveman back to the active roster Thursday, when he starts the series finale at Angel Stadium, and just as it appears Sonny Gray might be ready to come off the disabled list following one more rehab start, the A’s are hoping they don’t see Manaea subtracted from their rotation for any period of time.

Manager Bob Melvin said it was the top of Manaea’s shoulder that was bothering him.

“The velo was down, and it didn’t make sense to have him keep pitching,” Melvin said. “But we won’t know anything probably for a day or two, how he feels.”

Once he started throwing in the game, Manaea said he felt “kind of a little sharp pain. I mean, it’s nothing serious. I’ve dealt with it before and it only took me a few days to get back on the mound. To me, I’m not really worried about it.”

The pitcher added that he experienced a similar situation with his shoulder while a minor leaguer in Kansas City’s organization, toward the end of spring training, and he missed minimal time.

Things didn’t get better for the A’s (10-11) after Manaea exited, as they struck out 13 times and played sloppy defensively in dropping their third in a row. Catcher Stephen Vogt couldn’t handle Ryan Dull’s glove flip to the plate on a seventh-inning squeeze play, ending a streak of six errorless games for Oakland, but Melvin can live with occasional physical misplays. More problematic were occasions when right fielder Matt Joyce and center fielder Jaff Decker both seemed caught by surprise to see Angels runners take off for an extra base. Whether it was a lack of communication from infielders or the outfielders themselves needing to be more aware, the A’s can’t afford those kinds of mistakes.

“As a group, we can’t let that happen,” Melvin said. “We talk about it in advance meetings the way these guys run the bases. It’s not something we can do and expect to beat this team.”

Added Vogt: “We were on our heels quite a bit. This was obviously not the prettiest baseball game we’ve played.”