'Really encouraging': Manoah takes big step forward

May 12th, 2024

TORONTO -- pitched like it was 2022.

For seven innings in Sunday afternoon’s 5-1 loss to the Twins at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays saw the old Manoah, the AL Cy Young finalist, proudly strutting around the mound after another strikeout. The right-hander gave Toronto seven innings of three-run ball (all unearned), and lived in the zone while doing it.

He sounded like his old self afterwards, too.

“There's a lot of outside noise, but I work my tail off every day,” said Manoah. “And, you know, I have great support from all the guys in that clubhouse, and I know they believe in me. So it was just about going out there and doing it.”

The road back to a permanent rotation spot is far from over, but on the heels of a wildly uneven return to the Majors last Sunday in Washington, Manoah now has something to build on.

“The biggest thing was just to go out there and attack on every pitch,” Manoah said. “The defense made a ton of great plays behind me … so it’s really encouraging. I just want to throw strikes and let them work.”

Much of the conversation between that start and this one revolved around Manoah’s ability to repeat his delivery and control the strike zone, but this is also about trusting his stuff. After four walks and seven runs (six earned) in four innings against the Nationals, Manoah pointed to times when he was “nibbling,” trying to be too fine around the zone rather than pitching with the confidence that looked so inherent to him two seasons ago.

He needed just 78 pitches to get through seven against the Twins, pounding the zone for 55 strikes en route to six punchouts with one walk and four hits -- one homer and three singles. Against a lefty-heavy lineup, Manoah turned to his changeup, throwing the pitch 19 times compared to just one in his first start.

Manoah was feeling it, too, pumping his fists and tipping his cap whenever the defense made a big play behind him.

The Blue Jays paid as much attention to that as they did to his execution.

“It’s what we’re used to seeing out of him,” said manager John Schneider. “We've spent a lot of time talking about his pitches and his delivery. I said after his last start: his stuff is there. And I think today he was just in the zone and got on a good roll.”

Manoah didn’t allow much until the seventh, when third baseman Ernie Clement’s second error of the day and a single set the stage for Carlos Santana’s third home run in as many games against the Blue Jays this weekend. That was the Twins’ first extra-base hit of the day, as Santana reached for a 2-0 changeup outside the zone and drilled it a Statcast-projected 399 feet to right-center.

“Definitely not where I wanted to throw it, and I’d obviously rather it was 3-0 there, but that pitch worked so well for me today,” said Manoah. “We’ve just got to keep attacking.”

He did so after the homer, striking out Christian Vázquez on four pitches to end the frame in the next at-bat.

That was a wrap on Manoah’s day, though he probably had more left in the tank. He and the Blue Jays will continue to take things one step at a time, though.

“He was attacking, getting early outs, everything,” said Schneider. “When you look up and you see where his pitch count was, that's kind of what we're talking about. He had every pitch working today, which is really encouraging.”

Look at Manoah’s outing on its own and you may think your time machine works, but on the other side, the Blue Jays’ offense was firmly planted in the present day. After a breakout showing in Saturday’s comeback win, Toronto’s bats couldn’t deliver again in the finale.

The Blue Jays struck out 11 times -- 10 against Twins’ starter Bailey Ober -- managing just two singles in the loss. There was some bad luck at play, with a handful of hard-hit balls falling just short of finding a gap. Take the final out, for example, a line drive with a 99.2 mph exit velocity from Davis Schneider that landed in the glove of second baseman Edouard Julien despite an expected batting average of .770.

Still, luck tends to even out if a team creates enough chances.

“Every day is different,” said Schneider. “Pretty deceptive fastball from Ober, we hit some balls hard, but didn't really get much traffic going. So, every day is a different day in this league. You hope to have a little bit of carryover, [but] today we didn’t.”