Not 1, not 2, not 3 ... 7 straight K's for Manoah

Phelps praises improved 'pen; Matz tosses sim game at complex

March 14th, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One day, the Blue Jays will ask pitching prospect to take down the Yankees in September and October. For now, at least, he owns them in the month of March.

Manoah dominated New York in Sunday’s 5-1 loss in Dunedin, throwing three perfect innings with seven strikeouts. Those strikeouts, all swinging, came in every variety, too. Manoah got four Yankees with his slider and one with his changeup while the other two swung through his heavy fastball, which averaged 95.3 mph.

In Manoah’s first start of the spring, he faced an even stronger Yankees lineup and struck out four batters over two scoreless innings. Known for his power, Manoah, the club's No. 5 prospect, is showing his feel for pitching more in camp.

“Giving the hitters different looks is important,” Manoah said. “Some guys might go up there thinking heater, and when you throw a slider first pitch, it kind of just gives them that thought in the back of their mind. That’s all we need as pitchers, is hitters to second guess. You’ve got 0.4 seconds to react to a pitch, so if you’ve got a second guess in there, it’s going to make that 0.4 seconds a lot quicker.”

Manoah’s fastball and slider work hand in hand. It’s that changeup, though, that could round out his repertoire. Baseball is littered with hard-throwing, fastball-slider prospects, but having the feel for an offspeed pitch is what often sets the Major Leaguers apart. Catcher Reese McGuire said it was the best changeup he’s seen from Manoah to date.

"If you want to give a first impression, he's done a great job of that," said manager Charlie Montoyo. "His first two outings have been outstanding. He seems in control, he's not nervous, he's ready to attack the hitters. His line shows what he did. It wasn't luck. He just dominated today."

Phelps returns to new-look Blue Jays bullpen

Veteran reliever is back with Toronto after spending part of 2019 with the club. At that point, some of the Blue Jays’ current back-end pieces were just stepping into their own, but now Phelps sees a deep, hard-throwing group that left him joking to a teammate recently that he’s not sure where he fits in.

“When I was here last, [Jordan] Romano had just gotten to the big leagues and was getting his feet wet, but the stuff was always there,” Phelps said. “I rehabbed down here [in Dunedin] with [Ryan] Borucki a little bit and saw him in the big leagues. I know what these guys are capable of doing, but seeing them do it has been really incredible.”

Phelps’ free agency dragged on this offseason before he found a comfortable fit with the Blue Jays. He’s formed a strong relationship with bullpen coach and director of pitching development Matt Buschmann, a fellow St. Louis native. Buschmann played in the same summer league in St. Louis and played on an All-Star team from the area with Phelps’ older brother roughly 20 years ago, so the two go way back. As part of this 2021 Toronto bullpen, the club will lean on Phelps to be a steady veteran in those mid-to-late innings.

“We have a lot of guys that can do things different ways to get guys out. We have some young guys that have plus-plus stuff,” Phelps said. “We have some veteran guys that have had success who don’t just rely on the overpowering fastball. It’s a really good mix. Our pitching staff as a whole is something people are going to talk about.”

Extras from Dunedin
• Steven Matz pitched at the club’s complex Sunday instead of facing the Yankees. Similar to Hyun Jin Ryu last week, this kept the Yankees from seeing Matz prior to the start of the season. Matz threw 60 pitches to 15 hitters, striking out seven with one hit allowed and no walks. Montoyo heard from pitching coach Pete Walker that Matz looked “outstanding.”

No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson followed Manoah with three scoreless innings of his own against the Yanks. It wasn’t as flashy, with two hits allowed and three strikeouts, but the mature 20-year-old just continues to impress in camp.

• George Springer started in right field Sunday. He spent plenty of time in right field with the Astros, making 458 career starts there compared to 734 in center, but there shouldn’t be much reason to have Springer in the corner in Toronto. Consider this a day to keep Springer fresh at the position.

• Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made a couple of nice grabs on awkward throws around the bag at first. His hands shouldn’t be an issue there, but keep an eye on how he fields balls he’s forced to come in on and his decision-making when balls are hit into the hole between first and second.

• The defensive play of the game belonged to center fielder Jonathan Davis in the fourth. On a Clint Frazier single to Davis, Mike Tauchman tried to go from first to third, but Davis nailed him from the outfield, with Cavan Biggio applying the tag.