Blue Jays: Alek Manoah living up to his own billing
Alek Manoah provided another quality outing for the Blue Jays on Saturday night, and the rookie right-hander continues to live up to his own billing.
I say that because I had the chance to talk to him last spring before the 23 year old had made his big league debut, and there was one point he returned to many times.
Manoah believes in his ability to be a rotation workhorse, and so far he’s proving that in a big way at the highest level. Last night was the latest example as he went 6.1 innings against the Tigers while giving up just two earned runs on four hits, including eight strikeouts. It was a shame that Tigers were able to get to him in the 7th inning, and that the Blue Jays didn’t score enough runs to pick up a win for the likeable rookie.
When I think back to the comments Manoah made when we spoke, I can’t help but chuckle at the way he’s lived up to the reputation he wanted to establish. Here’s what he said in May of last year, and keep in mind this was in the early days of the pandemic.
"“My biggest goal this year was to make every start. I think that’s extremely important, you know, coming out of college, especially when I made 18 starts last year, and didn’t miss a start. It’s extremely important, it’s a longer season, it’s almost triple the amount of games that I played in college. So the biggest thing is to be able to show how durable I am, to be able to show that I’m a workhorse and go out there every day and work my butt off, and be able to go out there every five days and give a good start to the manager and to the team.”"
Unfortunately Manoah wasn’t able to work toward some of those goals during the 2020 season, as he spent most of the baseball season in Florida at the development camp. Instead of complaining about missing out on an important season for his young career, the charismatic and well-spoken young man talked about how he could take the opportunity to improve, and continue to focus on his career goals. He also made sure to come back to the “workhorse” point several times.
"“That’s my number one goal, just to make every start and be a consistent horse in the rotation. My number two goal was to throw over 130 innings and have over 160 strikeouts (this was in 2020), which gives me a little bit over a strikeout per inning, and just proves my dominance at the level that I’m at.”"
Manoah never once came across as arrogant when he talked about his own abilities, but it was very clear that he believed in himself. It struck me as a healthy level of confidence, and to see the way that it’s translated into the early days of his MLB career has made me smile. Especially with the way he’s getting it done, exactly as he said he would.
Looking at his game log during his time with the Blue Jays, Manoah has now thrown six or more innings in eight of his first 14 starts. His 74.1 frames on the year gives him an average of just over five innings, but that’s mostly because of the four times he’s failed to get out of the fourth. Saturday’s outing also marked the fourth time that he’s thrown more than 100 pitches, proving that he’s gained more or Charlie Montoyo’s trust as the season has gone on. As the rookie gains more MLB experience, they’ll only loosen those reigns further.
One of my favourite questions that I asked him that day was about who he’d face in a dream match-up. Manoah didn’t hesitate to tell me that he knows it won’t happen, but he wishes he would have pitched against Barry Bonds. When he talked about a current player he chose Mike Trout, and spoke about looking forward to the challenge of beating the best.
"“It’s hard to pick his swing and find holes in his swing, but I just wanna face him as many times until I can find that hole, even if I give up nine home runs and the tenth time I find that hole, I just wanna find that hole and then attack it as many times as I can after that.”"
I loved everything about Manoah’s attitude during that interview, and it’s even more exciting to see him backing it up in the big leagues. With another quality outing on Saturday he’s now posted a 3.15 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, already striking out 86 over those 74.1 innings. He likely got started too late to receive enough votes for the Rookie of the Year, but his performance has certainly been worthy of consideration.
The Blue Jays will have some question marks in their rotation going forward with the pending free agency of Robbie Ray, and Jose Berrios in another year. One thing they can be excited about is Manoah’s future in Toronto, knowing they have a legit workhorse they can rely on for many years to come.