'It felt amazing': Springer, Manoah fuel victory

July 31st, 2021

TORONTO -- This is what it was supposed to look like when signed with the Blue Jays.

There have been detours to the IL, Dunedin and Buffalo, but Springer is finally back in Toronto and back in peak form. The star center fielder launched home runs in each of his first two plate appearances in Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Royals, and he seems to look better by the day now that he’s back home in the leadoff spot.

“I think it’s reps,” Springer said after the win. “Obviously, I didn’t have a lot of game reps under my belt and hadn’t faced a Major League pitching staff or team in a long time. I just think reps, at-bats, and I keep going out there every day and keep working towards the ultimate goal, which is winning.”

Springer wasted no time either, jumping on the first pitch the Blue Jays saw to send a towering shot just over the wall in left field. It was the 40th leadoff home run of his career, ranking him eighth in MLB history. It was a snapshot of this Blue Jays lineup, which ambushes opposing pitchers early in games and early in counts.

It’s been such a unique road to Toronto for Springer, who was brought in to be another face of the franchise on a six-year deal for a club-record $150 million. That’s supposed to come along with a grand unveiling in early April and a full year in the city, waking up in your own home without a suitcase. He’s one of several Blue Jays veterans who have joined the club since the end of the 2019 season, so he’s appreciated the new phase of this season, which could help propel the Blue Jays forward.

“It’s been awesome. To finally get back here, to play at home and in front of our fans, it’s been awesome,” Springer said, “but the most important thing is that we’ve played two quality baseball games and put ourselves in a good position.”

The co-star of Springer’s performance was , the rookie right-hander who turned in one of the best outings of his young MLB career. Manoah was returning from a minor back injury that forced him to miss two starts and his velocity was down, but he still found a way to breeze through seven shutout innings, working at his typical rapid-fire pace while allowing just two hits and barely any threatening contact.

Manoah is built for pitching at Rogers Centre, feeding off the crowd in the same way Marcus Stroman once did and never shy to express himself on the mound. He likes silencing road crowds just as much, but this Toronto debut was special for the 23-year-old. Back in 2019 when he was drafted by the Blue Jays and subsequently brought up to Toronto for a couple of days at the dome, Manoah joked that he loved the kitchen and food in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. He said Saturday that it’s still great, but it’s a little sweeter when you get to experience it after a real MLB game.

“It was better than any other ballpark I’ve pitched in,” Manoah said. “It felt amazing. The crowd was great. The offence put up some big hits and got everybody going. I was just able to go out there and compete.”

Manoah remains the wild card in this new-look Blue Jays rotation, too. After the major Trade Deadline addition of José Berríos to go alongside Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray, Manoah slides into the No. 4 spot in the rotation but still offers tremendous upside. With his ERA now at 2.47, Manoah’s next challenge will be sustaining his success deep into the season as rival lineups see him a second and third time, but he’s passed every test the Majors have thrown at him so far.

Workload was a question for Manoah when he was called up, given that he pitched sparingly in 2019 after he was drafted. It’s difficult to measure workloads without inning totals from the lost 2020 Minor League season, too, so what would Manoah’s limit be? In an unplanned way, the time he missed with his injury helped to reset that conversation a bit, and at just 65 1/3 innings this year between the Majors and Minors, he should be full steam ahead for the home stretch.

Saturday’s win lacked the highlights and emotions of Friday’s homecoming, but so will nearly all regular season games. This one was airtight, though, with the Blue Jays playing clean baseball in each phase of the game and Springer and Manoah leading the way.