TORONTO -- On Monday night, Alek Manoah threw eight scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Rays, the top team in the American League, helping lead the Blue Jays to another win in their September surge.
Think about how unlikely that is in the context of where Manoah was this past spring -- entering his third year as a pro having made only six lower-level Minor League starts.
“We’re in uncharted territory right now,” Manoah said. “I’ve never been here before, but just got to continue to trust the training. Continue to trust everything we’ve done, and continue to compete, man.”
With 10 strikeouts against Tampa Bay, Manoah became the fastest Toronto pitcher to reach the 100-strikeout mark (17 games; the previous mark was 20 by Juan Guzman and Drew Hutchison). Among qualified rookies, Manoah ranks first in WHIP (1.03), second in batting average against (.192) and third in ERA (3.39).
Though Manoah likely wouldn’t be included in Toronto’s hypothetical three-man rotation for the American League Division Series, the 23-year-old is doing what he can to help the Blue Jays get there. He’s no longer a pleasant surprise -- he’s a legitimate weapon on the mound.
That’s due in large part to Manoah's heavy mix of fastballs and sliders. The right-hander can use his fastball to set up his slider, or vice versa, and the results are often unfortunate for opposing hitters.
Monday was one of the nastiest nights for Manoah's slider, which garnered 13 whiffs on 20 swings (a 65-percent whiff rate) from the Rays. Kevin Kiermaier called it a curveball when speaking to reporters postgame, and who could blame him? The pitch has that kind of wicked bend to it.
“I mean, none of us even came close to touching that tonight,” Kiermaier said. “And he just threw the ball really well.”
Posting such a dominant performance at such a critical juncture in the season says a lot about what Manoah can withstand, workload-wise. He’s up to 93 innings in the Majors (after throwing 18 innings with Triple-A Buffalo). That’s approaching his 2019 workload, when Manoah threw 108 1/3 innings as a junior at West Virginia and 17 more with Class A Short-Season Vancouver. But not all innings are created equal.
Tirelessly retiring big league hitters this late into Manoah's first season is considerably more impressive.
“I think it means a lot for him, and for all of us,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Of course, we’re going to be watching. But you can see it. He looks good. He looks just like he did at the beginning of the season. He’s not losing anything. He looks pretty strong to me.”
Montoyo noted that there’s no restrictions on Manoah, who figures to take the mound two or three more times in the regular season -- and he should play an important role if a postseason run follows. Manoah is ready for all of it.
“That was one of our main goals coming into the season: Go be a workhorse, go be a dog,” Manoah said. “Go give the team everything you’ve got.”