MINNEAPOLIS — Look, Alek Manoah’s going to hit some dudes. He clocked an American League-high 16 in only 111.2 innings pitched last season. He entered Thursday’s start defending his AL title with 10. You want to take command of the inner half of the plate? You want to throw front-hip sinkers to right-handers and back-foot sliders to lefties? Yeah, you’re going to hit some dudes.
And lately, Manoah’s been getting hit himself. His last start, Friday against the Detroit Tigers, ended when Jonathan Schoop tagged Manoah with a line drive to the pitching elbow. Back on the mound six days later against the Minnesota Twins, Manoah was cruising until — bang! — he got caught again, this time by a Carlos Correa comebacker off the right triceps.
Throw enough pitches and you’re going to wear one every now and again. But twice in two starts?
“Second week in a row something so odd like that happens. Thank the Lord it was not as much of a deal as it could have been,” Manoah said. “[Elbow’s] good. We’ll see tomorrow. But it got me a little higher this time on the triceps. So, just some soft tissue stuff. We’ll work it out of there.”
The bigger concern for Manoah was actually the guy he hit — Jose Miranda, four batter after the comebacker. Manoah struggled to maintain his mechanics following Correa’s liner, walking the bases loaded before plunking the Twins third baseman on the left wrist with a 94-m.p.h. sinker that got away. You could hear the impact around the ballpark. You could hear Miranda’s groan, too. It took him some time just to get back to his feet.
Of course, Manoah wasn’t trying to hit him. He motioned ‘my bad’ to Miranda once he’d gathered himself and reached first base. But Manoah’s not about to shy away from his approach, either. He’s effective because he’s aggressive. He’s efficient because he attacks. He gets whiffs with mid-90’s heaters on the plate because hitters aren’t comfortable standing in against him. He’s going to keep doing what he does.
“Yeah, I think guys know I throw in. And I can't stop attacking that pitch. We've done a lot of work — my hit by pitches are a lot lower this year than they were last year,” Manoah said. “I'll just continue to attack it and make those adjustments. I'm not perfect. I really hope Miranda's OK. I saw him with a hand guard the next at-bat. And I really hope all players can just use those and be all right with it. But we'll continue to work on that and commanding that inside part of the plate.”
And he’s going to keep grinding, as Manoah did Thursday, working around the bases-loaded hit batter and four walks to log six innings of two-run ball in a 9-3 Blue Jays victory over the Twins.
It was Manoah’s 17th quality start in 21 outings this season. It pushed him further into uncharted workload waters, as he reached 132 innings pitched on the year. And it was classic, tenacious Manoah, as he evenly mixed four-seamers off two-seamers off sliders, stalked the mound after strikeouts, and repeatedly found big pitches when he needed them.
“That’s him,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider. “Just dialing it in. He was nasty. Just the one hit by pitch, obviously, with the bases loaded. But he found another gear like he always does — especially with guys on.”
And he kept getting stronger as he went. Manoah started his night sitting 93-94 m.p.h. and finished it at 95-96. Thirteen of his 15 hardest pitches on the night came in the fifth and sixth innings, including a couple that reached 97. Gaining velocity over the course of an outing isn’t something a lot of 24-year-old starters can do. That’s Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon stuff. But here in his sophomore season, Manoah seems to be figuring it out.
“There was a good atmosphere out there. I'm facing a really good lineup. That's a playoff team. And we're a playoff team. So, I kind of went into today thinking this was a playoff matchup,” Manoah said. “I just wanted to bring some energy into that dugout. And I felt like I got stronger as I got going.”
Was his control erratic after Correa tagged him? Yes. Did he have his best changeup? No. Could he have pitched deeper into the game if he was more efficient his second trip through the order? Likely. But did Manoah give his team a half-dozen low-scoring innings and put them in great position to win? Absolutely. And that’s what he’s done far more often than not through his first two big-league seasons. When things on the baseball diamond inevitably go awry, he’s found a way to get the job done.
And after struggling to cash runners early against Twins starter Sonny Gray, who stranded five walks, Manoah’s offence found a way to do theirs. Teoscar Hernandez put Toronto on the board in the sixth, punishing a 3-2 splitter from Gray’s replacement, Emilio Pagan, and hitting it about as high as he did far:
And the Blue Jays continued teeing off on 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 up the middle. Gurriel scored himself on Whit Merrifield’s first hit as a Blue Jay, a 100-m.p.h. grounder to Miranda, who had to rush to make a play to beat the speedy centre fielder to first and botched it.
Flash forward to the top of the eighth and it was Bichette, Gurriel and Merrifield repeating the procession — double, single, single — this time against Trevor Megill, who throws 98 and entered the outing with a 1.93 ERA. Megill’s power ultimately gave way to Tyler Duffey’s finesse, and the Blue Jays had little trouble with that approach, either. Cavan Biggio and George Springer came up with quick singles against the right-hander, which set up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to do what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. does:
Hang a 3-1 breaking ball on the inner half to that guy at your own peril. No one hit a ball harder all night.
And suddenly, what was shaping up as a tight game following Manoah’s determined performance became a laugher. After averaging 3.14 runs over their previous seven games, the Blue Jays needed it. They scored as many runs Thursday as they did over their last three games combined. And they handily beat a good team — a division leader that aggressively loaded up at Thursday’s deadline.
In the end, every Blue Jays starter reached base at least once. Alejandro Kirk walked three times. Five Blue Jays had multi-hit nights. And Manoah came away with a hit of his own — his 11th plunked batter of the season.
It’s going to happen. And Manoah gets it. He’s worn a couple himself lately, after all. But if we’ve learned something about Manoah over his 41 starts as a Blue Jay it’s that the big man can grind through some stuff. And when things go awry, he can find his way through.
“I just put my face in the hat and try to eliminate all the outside noise. Just try and breathe, control my heart rate. And usually when I can do that, I can control my mechanics out there,” Manoah said. “Just getting in a good rhythm where my mechanics are free and easy and I can attack downhill. When I do that, I feel like it comes on pretty good.”