Manoah's debut a family affair: 'All for them'

Blue Jays prospect goes 6 scoreless in front of raucous cheering section at Yankee Stadium

May 28th, 2021

With every pitch Alek Manoah threw in his MLB debut Thursday afternoon, his mother, Susana, was locked in and along for the ride.

She shouted, “Come on, baby!” as her son battled through a four-pitch walk to begin his start. She blew him a kiss -- with both hands -- as he earned his first strikeout.

Roughly 40 friends and family members were part of the reduced-capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium to witness Manoah’s six scoreless innings in the Blue Jays' 2-0 win over the Yankees in the opener of a seven-inning doubleheader. But with the sacrifices Susana has made to help Alek reach that moment, her presence might have been the most special of all.

“I’ve seen my mom not eat dinner to feed me and my brother,” Manoah told Sportsnet after the game. “Those kinds of things, I’ll give her the world; I’ll do anything for her. She’s my inspiration.

“She teaches me how to work hard every day, she teaches me how to keep going, she teaches me how to compete. Her, my father, my brother, everybody. I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s all for them.”

Manoah, who became the first pitcher from the 2019 Draft class to debut in the Majors, put on a show for his boisterous supporters. He struck out seven while allowing only two hits and two walks on 88 pitches.

Manoah's leadoff walk to DJ LeMahieu in the first was the only time the right-hander made things easy on the Yankees' hitters. Manoah admitted that his nerves spiked in that plate appearance, but from there, the 23-year-old sharpened his focus.

“After those four, it was kind of just like, ‘I don’t want to suck,’” Manoah deadpanned. “‘So let’s lock it in right here and let’s start pitching.’”

Manoah then struck out Rougned Odor and Aaron Judge in consecutive at-bats. The punchout of Judge was eye-opening for Manoah, as he saw the former American League Rookie of the Year whiff so hard he dropped to a knee. And then Judge guessed wrong on a 97.3 mph fastball, offering a late half-swing for strike three.

“I was just like, ‘Man, this is fun,’” Manoah said. “He was competing as hard as he can, I was competing as hard as I can and that’s baseball. It was amazing.”

Manoah continued to amaze, finding the strike zone with all four of his pitches to keep the Yankees guessing. Only two of the 13 balls put in play against Manoah were hard-hit ones (exit velocity of 95-plus mph), and he generated 13 whiffs on 42 swings (31 percent).

As Toronto's No. 5 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Manoah’s performance was something the organization knew he was capable of. But the speed at which he arrived, and excelled, is simply not normal.

“For any kid that’s had as few innings as him, it’s a very unique trajectory,” said Toronto area scout Coulson Barbiche Jr., who followed Manoah through college. “It’s very quick. So I guess I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised. … All credit goes to him. He really put himself in a good position the last year-and-a-half.”

Manoah's arrival in the Majors came less than two years after the Blue Jays selected him with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. The last Toronto player to have a shorter gap between the Draft and his first start was left-hander Brett Cecil, who debuted on May 5, 2009.

In the time between the 2019 Draft and his MLB debut, Manoah tossed only 35 Minor League innings. He made six starts with Class A Short Season Vancouver in '19, was denied a '20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and started three games for Triple-A Buffalo this year. His time with Buffalo, during which he went 3-0 with only one run allowed and 27 strikeouts in 18 innings, forced the organization’s hand; he deserved a shot with the big league club.

Now, here he is, a Blue Jays starter with a near-perfect debut. And an army of loved ones to cherish it with.

“For today, I just want to hug my whole family,” Manoah said. “I think that’s what I’m going to enjoy the most, is how many people came out here to see me -- called off sick, made excuses, whatever the case may be. They made sure to be here. I think that’s what I’ll remember the most.”