By STEVE KRAH
Succeeding in baseball involves a series of adjustments.
Sean Manaea knows this to be true from experience.
A starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Manaea (pronounced muh-NYE-uh) has made — and will continue to make — the necessary changes to be effective on a Major League Baseball mound.
“It’s been a winding road,” says Manaea, a northwest Indiana native who was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana State University by the Kansas City Royals and made his big-league debut with Oakland in 2016. “When I first got to pro ball I was trying to strike out the world and go max effort. But I found that I can’t sustain that so I toned it down.
“But I toned it down too much and was getting lit up. I’m still trying to find that happy medium and have some gas left at the end of the game.”
The 6-foot-5 left-hander who played three seasons at South Central (Union Mills) High School and his senior year at Andrean High School (helping the 59ers win the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship) has been known to reach 97 mph on the radar gun, but strives to mix velocity and deception to get hitters out.
“I threw a four-seam fastball about 75 percent of the time (in 2017),” says Manaea, who turns 26 on Feb. 1. “At the end of 2016, I started messing with two-seamer.”
What better — velocity or movement?
“A combination of both is the best,” says Manaea. “You don’t have to throw 97 to 100 mph every pitch to get guys out. The main thing is to be able to throw strikes no matter what kind of movement you have.”
When Manaea’s slider is biting down it provides plenty of swings and misses and groundball outs.
“That’s the pitch I need to get down and throw for a strike,” says Manaea. “That’s one of my main focuses this off-season.”
Taking advantage of the weather and the ability to work out with Athletics trainers at the team’s spring training complex, Manaea spends his winters in Arizona.
“Being physically fit throughout the season is going to help me,” says Manaea. “I played all of 2016 at 255 pounds and felt sluggish and had trouble recovering between starts. Last year, I was at 230 to 235 (after losing appetite while dialing in the proper dose for attention-deficit disorder medication) and I lost muscle and had trouble with recovery. I feel that if I’m at 240 to 245, that’s about right.”
Manaea says his twisting delivery has looked the same most of his life with one exception.
While in the Royals system in 2014, he was asked to pitch more over the top and more direct to the plate.
“It worked out for a little bit,” says Manaea. “But I was thinking about it way to too much. I went back to what was natural to me.
“Everything is a learning process. I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m trying to find it again and be more consistent. I do not want to be not be overly rotational or over the top.”
Making 29 appearances (all starts), the tall southpaw went 12-10 with a 4.37 earned run average. In 158 2/3 innings, he struck out 140 and walked 55. In 2016, all but one of his 25 appearances were starts. He was 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 124 and walked 37 in 144 2/3 innings.
As of this writing, MLB.com lists Manaea No. 1 on the Oakland depth chart among starting pitchers.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Manaea. “At the end of the day, all I want to do is win b all games and get to the World Series and win that. It doesn’t matter if I’m the No. 5 guy or the No. 1 guy. It’s all the same to me. If we all pull together this is a team that can do something special.”
The 2017 Athletics finished in the basement of the American League West (the same division occupied by the world-champion Houston Astros). It was the sixth full season as Oakland manager for Bob Melvin.
While Manaea has picked up in-game advice from the manager and other pointers from his pitching coach (currently Scott Emerson) or bullpen coaches (currently Philip Pohl and Jeremy Dowdy), the ultimate responsibility for his performance falls on him.
“At big league level, you’ve got to have your own routines,” says Manaea. “The pitching coach is there to have you. But you have to make adjustments on your own. You self-diagnose problems along the way. At the end of the day, you’re the one making those pitches.”
Manaea, who is of American Samoa heritage, was born in Valparaiso to Faaloloi and Opal Manaea and grew up in Wanatah. He played for Kevin Hannon and Ron King at South Central. He took part in the first All-Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series after his junior year before transferring and joining coach Dave Pishkur at Andrean.
Sean draws comparisons from Melvin to Pishkur.
“They are both into stats and doing things the right way,” says Manaea, who was 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 16 walks in 24 1/3 innings in 2010. “(Pishkur) is one of the favorite coaches of all-time. He taught us to be on-time and polite to other people. It goes outside of baseball. He was a very much professional coach. He is considered one of the best in Indiana and you can see why.
“He loves the game of baseball and wants to pass it on to the younger generation. He’s definitely a student of the game.”
Pishkur has amassed more than 900 victories at Andrean since 1980. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer has led five Class 3A state champions (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) and one 3A state runner-up (2004).
“He knows how he wants done in the classroom and on the baseball field,” says Manaea of Pishkur. “He wants things done the best way possible. You must give it your best every single practice and every time you are on the mound.
“Andrean helped me out with my academics. They got on me about being more productive. Baseball definitely came second at the time.”
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today without those coaches,” says Manaea. “PFP’s (pitchers’ fielding practice) was the bane of my existence. I just couldn’t do it. (Heller) just wanted the best for me.”
There was adjusting to be done in college after his stellar high school career.
“The fall of my freshmen year (2010), I was only throwing 82 to 85 mph, but I was getting hitters out,” says Manaea. “Then in the winter, after working out for the first time on a structured program I saw my velocity jump. I hit 90 mph for the first time. It was one of those milestones.
“My freshmen season wasn’t that great (5-5, 4.32 ERA, 82 K’s, 48 walks, 83 1/3 innings), but I was maturing as a pitcher.”
In the summer of 2010, Manaea played for the Dubois County Bombers when that Huntingburg, Indiana-based team was in the Prospect League. He drew the attention of pro scouts at the all-star game with his 93 mph stuff and was named league MVP.
“My sophomore year (at ISU) was a little better (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 115 K’s, 37 walks, 115 innings),” says Manaea. “Then I had a really good summer on Cad Cod (5-1, 1.22 ERA, 85 K’s, seven walks in 51 2/3 innings with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks). That was when I realized I could play professional baseball.”
In his last season with the Sycamores, the lefty went 5-4 with a 1.47 ERA. He whiffed 93 and walked 27 in 73 1/3 innings and was drafted in the first round by the Royals.
Sean Manaea is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. The former South Central (Union Mills) High School, Andrean High School and Indiana State University player made his Major League Baseball debut with Oakland in 2016. (Oakland Athletics Photo)