A's October Quest: Rangers lose in extras, Orioles fall to Yankees

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A's October Quest: Rangers lose in extras, Orioles fall to Yankees

A's spring training Day 40: Manaea downplays struggles after walking five

A's spring training Day 40: Manaea downplays struggles after walking five

MESA, Ariz. — Something flipped a switch inside Sean Manaea in the third inning Saturday, and the A’s left-hander pitched with the aggressiveness he’s shown most of spring training.

It was a different story before that, as Manaea issued five walks, two of them forcing in runs, against the Cincinnati Reds. His final Cactus League outing ended after just three innings, his pitch count at more than 70, and he was charged with five earned runs.

“I was trying to nibble at the corners too much,” Manaea said. “The third inning I finally just said, ‘Throw it right down the middle and let them hit it.’”

The plan was to get Manaea close to 90 pitches, so he went to the bullpen and threw 10 more after he was pulled from the game. He entered the day with a 2.81 ERA in his first five outings, walking just one in each of those games.

He downplayed his struggles Saturday in Oakland’s 11-6 split-squad defeat at Hohokam Stadium, and manager Bob Melvin wasn’t expressing major concern either.

“He was just out of sync,” Melvin said. “Typically you don’t see him walk guys like that, let alone multiple guys in a row. It was just a tough day for him. We wanted to try to get him close to 90 pitches. But when you’re throwing that many pitches in three innings, I just couldn’t risk sending him back out there.”

Manaea was stressing the positives of his camp afterward. As he preps for one final tune-up start at AT&T Park against the Giants in the Bay Bridge Series, he particularly likes the way his slider has rounded into form.

“Just being able to have that confidence to throw it for a strike and get weak ground balls and swings and misses, it’s huge,” he said.

CAMP BATTLE: The A’s lost their other split-squad matchup by an identical 11-6 score to the Dodgers in Glendale. Jesse Hahn took the hill and struggled for the second consecutive outing, allowing two homers — including a grand slam by Andrew Toles — and surrendering seven runs (five earned) over 3 1/3 innings. Competing for one of two open rotation spots, Hahn hasn’t shown his best in the Cactus League stretch run. He gave up seven runs against Colorado in his previous start.

ODDS AND ENDS: Third baseman Trevor Plouffe had two more hits against the Reds to raise his average to .425 but left the game after tweaking an abductor muscle in his lower body. “He felt like he’s OK. We just didn’t wanna risk that,” Melvin said. … Rajai Davis connected for his first spring home run and scored three runs. … Sean Doolittle gave up two runs in his inning of work but struck out three. He sported his new eyeglasses for the first time in a major league game. … Matt Chapman hit a three-run homer off former Athletic Rich Hill in the game at Glendale.

Madson focused on his pitching, not his role in A's bullpen

Madson focused on his pitching, not his role in A's bullpen

MESA, Ariz. — Ryan Madson goes about his business getting ready for the season, without much clarity on what his bullpen role will be and hardly wringing his hands over the mystery.

A’s manager Bob Melvin has four veteran relievers with closer experience to choose from to be his ninth-inning man. He said Saturday morning he likely won’t announce that decision until the Bay Bridge Series that leads into Opening Day.

Madson, who rang up 30 saves as Oakland’s primary closer last season, prepares the same during the spring regardless of what inning he might pitch. He sees the numerous closer options as being a benefit for whoever ultimately gets picked for the ninth.

“If I’m doing it and I don’t get it done, there’s guys that will,” Madson said. “It’s not just a one-man show, so that takes the pressure off actually. People would think maybe it adds pressure — you gotta do good so you can have it. To me, it does the exact opposite. That helps me, knowing the more guys you’ve got that can do the job, the easier that job becomes.”

It wouldn’t be a shock if Melvin goes with the 36-year-old Madson as closer to begin the season. He’s the incumbent, and, though he had a 7.50 spring ERA before throwing a scoreless inning Saturday, no one among the trio of John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle has made an emphatic statement for the job with their Cactus League performance. Axford’s 5.06 ERA is the lowest of those four.

From his comments so far this spring, Melvin seems inclined to use Ryan Dull as an escape artist to enter with men on base, a situation that he excelled in last season.

Regardless of how Melvin lines up his bullpen for the regular season, he’s said that he’s likely to utilize multiple guys in save situations depending on who’s available and who needs rest on a given day.

At this time last year, Madson was assumed to be the eighth-inning setup man with Doolittle handling closer duties. Melvin wound up flip-flopping them for the start of the regular season, and Madson got off to a strong start and remained the closer for most of the year. In his first extended ninth-inning duty since 2011, he notched his second 30-save season but also had seven blown saves, tied for second most in the American League.

“The emotions are different” in the ninth inning, Madson said. “They’re heightened, and so I had to adjust that way. … As long as I can navigate those emotions and put them in the right place, I usually do well when I can do that.”

Entering the second year of a three-year, $22 million contract, Madson said he likes the way he’s rounding into form on the mound despite less-than-glittering numbers.

“When I have good angle on the ball, good deception and good movement, then I get outs and I get ground balls,” he said. “I get strikeouts with the changeup. So if I focus on that, everything else falls in where it needs to.”