TORONTO -- Alek Manoah is the man you want on the mound the day after something goes wrong.
An hour after Hyun Jin Ryu was placed on the IL with left forearm inflammation, Manoah led the Blue Jays to a win, this time 4-3 over the A’s. He’s got a knack for doing that.
The Blue Jays are now 18-4 in the 22 games started by Manoah, this latest effort locking down a weekend series victory. Luck, offense and a dozen other factors play into that, but Manoah has done exactly what manager Charlie Montoyo looks for from his starting pitchers, which is consistently giving the team a chance to win. Without Ryu for the foreseeable future, Manoah is as important to this Blue Jays team than ever.
“His last 10 starts, we’ve won every game,” Montoyo said after the win. “He just gives us a chance. Everybody feels it when he takes the mound. It’s what I always used to say about him. He gives you a chance, throws strikes and he doesn’t back down from anybody.”
This is why Montoyo allows himself to go by feel at times with Manoah. There was one spot late in Manoah’s start Sunday, for example, when Montoya was considering going to the bullpen, but decided to trust his guy. Even at just 24, the right-hander has already earned that trust from his manager.
“I want those guys to know that I’m giving it my all every time,” Manoah said. “I think they kind of feel and play off of that energy. To go out there and get as many wins as possible, that’s going to get us in the postseason. That’s good news.”
Manoah is gifted in many ways. He’s one of the biggest human beings you’ll find on a baseball field -- listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds -- with a natural feel for pitching, but one of his greatest assets is an ability to compartmentalize.
Manoah allowed two runs in the top of the fifth, which shrunk Toronto's lead to one, but came back out in the sixth and gave the Blue Jays a clean inning before handing it off to the bullpen. Any clean inning is a good inning, but it was particularly important given how hard this ‘pen has been ridden through the first 10 games of the season.
“I’m just trying to compete every time,” Manoah said. “I’m trying to keep that focus there as much as possible. I think I kind of lobbed in an 85-mph changeup on the first pitch to [Stephen] Vogt. I wasn’t too locked in right there. You can’t let the game slip away or take anything for granted. You have to stay focused, so I wanted to do that in the sixth inning and come out firing.”
With Ryu’s uncertain diagnosis, Ross Stripling will move into the rotation full time after making a spot start on Friday. The Blue Jays will continue to use the six-starter strategy going forward, too, as they begin a long stretch without an off day on Tuesday in Boston. In Manoah, though, the Blue Jays have their best shot at turning the big two of José Berríos and Kevin Gausman into a big three.
Berríos got off to a difficult start on Opening Day, recording just one out, but is one of the safest bets in baseball to bounce back given his long track record of consistency. Gausman has looked fantastic, too, but any conversation around the Blue Jays in 2022 needs to have one eye on the postseason. Toronto has to be happy with how those two pitchers would line up in Games 1 and 2 of a series, but what about the third game, when the aces have already pitched and matchups can become more lopsided?
Manoah is built for those moments. We saw that in his season debut, when he rolled into New York and shut down the mighty Yankees with six shutout innings. Over and over again, Manoah proves that the spotlight is not too bright. His winning percentage wouldn’t look too bad in the postseason, either.
The fact this conversation even exists around Manoah is a compliment to his meteoric rise over the past 12 months. When Spring Training opened last season, Manoah was a prospect with an outside shot at an MLB debut in ‘21. Now, he’s not just a hot young arm with upside, but someone who the Blue Jays can lean on like a veteran, especially now that they’re without Ryu.