Alek Manoah set for his turn in the spotlight with the Blue Jays

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 24: Alex Manoah #75 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during a game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 24, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 24: Alex Manoah #75 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during a game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 24, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays are calling up their No. 3 pitching prospect Alek Manoah for his much-anticipated MLB debut on Wednesday in New York

The bright lights of Yankee Stadium. Across the diamond, Aaron Judge and Luke Voit in pinstripes ready to pounce on any errant pitch. And a 23-year-old with just 18 innings of experience above Single-A. Good luck, kid.

Alek Manoah may not be the saviour for the suddenly-struggling Toronto Blue Jays, but he’s certainly earned the opportunity to prove he’s better than what they’ve got. The right-hander is expected to be called up from Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday in time to make his Major League debut in the Bronx against the Yankees.

Manoah stands a towering 6-foot-6, with the fastball to match his imposing frame. He regularly throws in the mid-90s and can touch as high as 97 mph, with a big-breaking slider to complement it. The result has been a lot of frustrated and dejected minor league opponents heading back to the dugout so far this season.

Manoah has made three starts for Buffalo. He’s given up just seven hits and one earned run, a solo home run to Worcester’s Chris Herrmann last Wednesday while striking out 27 batters in 18 innings. No Blue Jays starter has enjoyed a three-game stretch like that since 1995. He generated 19 swinging strikes in his last start; only Robbie Ray has gotten more for the Blue Jays this season. In Spring Training, Manoah gave up one hit in seven innings, with 15 strikeouts.

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As he breezed through the competition in the minor leagues, it was only a matter of time before Manoah wound up on the big league roster. He joins the Blue Jays rotation just in time, the club locked in a six-game losing streak before arriving in New York City yesterday that has stretched the pitching staff to the limit.

The Blue Jays possess three dependable starters in Hyun Jin Ryu, Ray, and Steven Matz. Together, they have a 3.91 ERA so far in May and are averaging nearly six innings per start. Meanwhile, the rest of the rotation is averaging less than 3.2 innings per start with a 5.34 ERA. Only once this month as a starter other than the top-three lasted five innings.

The bullpen, which had the third-lowest ERA in the league through the first month of the season, has borne the brunt of that lack of starting pitching depth. Overused and worn out, Blue Jays relievers had thrown 95.2 innings in May, second only to the Rays. Their collective walks per nine innings rate has risen from 2.9 in April to 3.7 this month.

In their six-game losing streak (prior to last night’s win), the bullpen had a 6.46 ERA, punctuated by Tampa’s seven-run outburst in the 11th inning on Monday. For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jays lost five straight games, giving up the winning run in the eighth inning or later each time.

Manoah is expected to help alleviate the strain on the bullpen by giving the Blue Jays some much-needed innings out of their rotation. He’s gone six innings in each of his three starts, throwing an average of 83 pitches per start. After each game, every dominant outing after dominant outing, he’s gotten the question: when will he get the call? The decision, he maintained, wasn’t up to him.

“Whenever they think I’m ready, that’s when they’re going to call. Whenever they think they need me. My job is just to continue to compete every five-six days, whenever I’m given the ball,” he said back on May 12 after allowing one hit over six shutout innings against Rochester. “I really love to throw that baseball, man. Really not anxious about anything. I plan on playing this game for a long time. So just go out there and give it everything I’ve got every outing.”

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The time when the Blue Jays need him has arrived. The club currently sits one game over .500 on the season and 4.5 games behind the Rays in the AL East. His first test will be a difficult one, going up against the Yankees in New York. But, hey, if he can make it there, he can make it anywhere.