MINNEAPOLIS — Look, Alek Manoah is going to hit some guys. He clocked an American League-high 16 in just 111.2 innings pitched last season. He went into Thursday’s start, defending his AL title with 10. Want to take command of the inner half of the record? Want to throw front-hip sinkers to right-handers and back-foot sliders to left-handers? Yeah, you’re gonna hit some guys.
And lately Manoah himself has been beaten. His last start, Friday against the Detroit Tigers, ended when Jonathan Schoop tapped Manoah to the pitching elbow. Back on the mound six days later against the Minnesota Twins, Manoah was cruising until — bang! – he was caught again, this time by a comebacker from Carlos Correa with the correct triceps.
Throw enough pitches and you’ll be wearing one every now and then. But twice in two starts?
“For the second week in a row something like this is happening. Thank goodness it wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been,” Manoah said. “[Elbow’s] good. We’ll see tomorrow. But it got me a little higher on the triceps this time. So just some soft tissue. We’ll figure it out.”
The greater concern for Manoah was actually the man he hit — Jose Miranda four throws after the comebacker. Manoah struggled to find his mechanics after Correa’s liner, filling the bases before plopping the Twins’ third baseman on the left wrist with a 94-mph sinker that got away. You could hear the impact around the stadium. You could also hear Miranda’s moaning. It took a while for him to get back on his feet.
Of course Manoah didn’t try to hit him. He gestured ‘my mistake‘ to Miranda as soon as he gathered and reached first base. But Manoah isn’t about to shy away from his approach either. He is effective because he is aggressive. He is efficient because he attacks. He gets gizmos with mid-90s stoves on record because hitters don’t feel comfortable going against him. He will continue to do what he does.
“Yeah, I think guys know I’m throwing in. And I can’t stop attacking that field. We’ve put in a lot of work — my hit by pitches is a lot lower this year than last year,” Manoah said. “I will just keep attacking it and make those adjustments. I am not perfect. I really hope Miranda is doing well. I saw him the next at bat with a handguard. And I really hope all players can just use it and be okay with it. But we’ll keep working on that and mastering that inner part of the record.”
And he will continue to grind, as Manoah did on Thursday, working around the base-loaded batter and walking four to score six innings with two runs in a 9-3 win by Blue Jays over the Twins.
It was Manoah’s 17th quality start in 21 games this season. It pushed him further into unknown workloads, as he reached 132 innings pitched on the year. And it was the classic, tenacious Manoah, as he evenly mixed four-seamers and two-seamers from sliders, climbed the mound after strikeouts and repeatedly found big throws when he needed them.
“That’s him,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider. ‘Just dial in. He was mean. Only the one hit by pitch, of course, with the bases loaded. But he found another outfit as he always does, especially with boys on.
And he kept getting stronger as he progressed. Manoah started his night at 93-94 mph and finished at 95-96. Thirteen of his 15 hardest pitches of the evening came in the fifth and sixth inning, including a pair that reached 97. Gaining speed on an outing is not something many 24-year-old starters can do. Those are Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon stuff. But here in his second season, Manoah seems to be figuring it out.
“There was a good atmosphere there. I stand for a very good line-up. That’s a playoff team. And we are a play-off team. So I kind of went under the assumption today that this was a playoff matchup,” Manoah said. “I just wanted to put some energy into that dugout. And I felt like I was getting stronger as I progressed.”
Was his control erratic after Correa tagged him? Yes. Did he have his best sub? No. Could he have thrown deeper into the game if he hadn’t started shooting the ball on his second trip through the order? Secure. But did Manoah give his team half a dozen low-scoring innings and put them in a great position to win? Absolute. And that’s what he has done much more often than not during his first two seasons in the premier league.
When things inevitably go wrong with the baseball diamond, he’s found a way to get the job done.
And after struggling to cash in runners early against Twins starter Sonny Gray, who stranded five walks, Manoah’s attack found a way to do theirs. Teoscar Hernandez put Toronto on the board in the sixth, took advantage of a 3-2 splitter from Gray’s replacement, Emilio Pagan, and hit it about as high as he went far:
And the Blue Jays continued to tee off at Pagan from there, as Bo Bichette ripped a two-strike double to the wall before Lourdes Gurriel Jr. drove him in with a two-strike single down the middle. Gurriel himself scored on Whit Merrifield’s first goal as a Blue Jay, a 100-mph grounder to Miranda, who had to rush to make a play to beat the fast center fielder and screwed it up.
Flash forward to the top of eighth and it was Bichette, Gurriel and Merrifield who repeated the procession – doubles, singles and singles – this time against Trevor Megill, who throws 98 and started the outing with a 1.93 ERA. Megill’s strength eventually gave way to Tyler Duffey’s finesse, and the Blue Jays had little trouble with that approach either. Cavan Biggio and George Springer hit the righthander with quick singles to give Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is doing:
Hang a 3-1 breaking ball on the inside half on that guy at your own risk. No one hit a ball harder all night.
And suddenly, what formed like a tight game after Manoah’s determined performance became a laughing stock. After averaging 3.14 runs over their previous seven games, the Blue Jays needed it. They scored as many points on Thursday as in their last three games combined. And they handily beat a good team, a division leader who charged aggressively on Thursday’s deadline.
In the end, every Blue Jays-starter reached base at least once. Alejandro Kirk walked three walks. Five Blue Jays got away with multi-hit games. And Manoah got away with a goal of his own – his 11th batter of the season.
It is going to happen. And Manoah gets it. After all, he’s been wearing a few himself lately. But if we’ve learned anything about Manoah from his 41 starts as a Blue Jay, it’s that the big man can grind through some things. And if things go wrong, he can find his way.
“I just put my face in the hat and try to eliminate all outside noise. Just try to breathe, control my heart rate. And usually when I can, I can control my mechanics out there,” Manoah said. “Just getting into a good rhythm where my mechanics are free and easy and I can attack downhill. If I do that, I feel like it’s going to be okay.”