Blue Jays: One year in, Alek Manoah is already a star

TORONTO, ON - MAY 21: Alek Manoah #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning of their MLB game against the Cincinnati Reds at Rogers Centre on May 21, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 21: Alek Manoah #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning of their MLB game against the Cincinnati Reds at Rogers Centre on May 21, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /
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When Alek Manoah starts for the Blue Jays on Friday, it will be the one-year anniversary of his MLB debut. How things have changed in such a short time.

Alek Manoah will take the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays in Anaheim on Friday night. It will be the 29th start of his Major League career.

One year earlier to the day, Manoah also started for the Blue Jays, but at a much different point in his career. It was his MLB debut against the New York Yankees in the pressure-filled environment of Yankee Stadium. It was a sunny, Thursday afternoon in the Bronx and this right-hander, who had appeared in just nine games in the minors before earning a big-league call-up, provided a glimpse of what was to come.

Manoah shut out the Yankees, emphatically silencing the hostile crowd with the exception of his mother Susana sitting in the stands. The powerful Yankees lineup got only two hits off him in six innings. Aaron Judge struck out weakly in his first at-bat, taking an awkward swing at a 97 mph fastball.

Just a year later, Manoah has transformed from a heralded prospect to a bonafide star. He’s the only starter in Blue Jays franchise history to have an ERA below 2.75 over his first 28 games, and the only one to have a WHIP below one. No other starting pitcher since World War II has started his career with at least 14 wins, three or fewer losses, and a sub-2.75 ERA over that many games.

Manoah already has 13 career games allowing one or fewer earned runs over at least six innings. In the Divisional Era, only Dwight Gooden, Cal Eldred, and Jacob deGrom have had more at this stage in their careers. His four career games allowing two or fewer hits in six-plus shutout innings are tied for the most of any pitcher in the last 50 years within their first 28 games.

He’s done his best work in the biggest moments, most significantly against the Yankees. Earlier this year, on April 11, he allowed only a ground ball single to Joey Gallo in an otherwise flawless outing at Yankee Stadium. Since the Yankees moved to the Bronx with the opening of the old stadium in 1923, only four visiting pitchers have had multiple games of at least six shutout innings allowing no more than two hits. Blue Jays legend Dave Stieb did it; so did Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was the first. Manoah is the other.

Just a year into his career, Alek Manoah is already one of the game’s best

Manoah had his breakthrough in 2021. So far in 2022, he’s become a true staff ace. He didn’t lose a game for 12 consecutive starts. He hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his eight starts this season, and only Joe Musgrove of the Padres has as many such starts. He trails only future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander in ERA among AL starters, and only Verlander and the Rays’ Shane McClanahan in WHIP. A year ago he was preparing to make his debut; now he’s a Cy Young contender and one of the best starters in the Majors.

The fire and passion he has are evident every time he takes the mound. Last Saturday, after throwing eight innings against the Reds and giving up only one run, Manoah wanted to do something he’s yet to accomplish: throw a complete game. But manager Charlie Montoyo, despite Manoah’s protestations, decided to make a move to the bullpen to close out the game. Montoyo had nothing but praise for his 24-year-old budding superstar after the game.

“He’s Alek Manoah. He’s been great the whole time, now two years now,” he said on a video on MLB.com. “We’re very confident that we have a chance to be in the game when he pitches and he did the same thing today. Even when he gets in trouble he finds a way to get out of trouble. And that’s a credit to him.”

He’s endeared himself to the Toronto fanbase, who have become accustomed to his mannerisms over the last 365 days: the way he holds his glove in front of him before going into his windup; the way he confidently bounces off the mound after striking out a batter with one of his blazing fastballs or knee-buckling sliders.

Next. Cavan Biggio returns to the active roster. dark

Manoah’s career began one year ago, but there is still so much to come.

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