Back with Blue Jays, Manoah (8 K's) looks like himself again

July 8th, 2023

DETROIT -- Around this time last year, was heading to the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. He proceeded to strike out three batters in one dominating inning at Dodger Stadium.

A year later, in the Blue Jays’ 12-2 win over the Tigers on Friday night at Comerica Park, the right-hander was returning from a two-game stint in the Minor Leagues in search of answers. And he seems to have found them.

Manoah looked much like the guy who finished third in the 2022 American League Cy Young Award voting after going 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA, 180 strikeouts and a franchise-record 0.99 WHIP last season. It’s a different scenario, but his start in Detroit was certainly a positive.

Manoah pitched six innings, allowed one run on five hits, and struck out eight with no walks -- the first time this season he didn’t issue a free pass. He paved his road to success by throwing 19 first-pitch strikes to 23 batters faced.

“I’m just excited about the strides I’ve made,” said Manoah. “And I look forward to continue to build off of those.”

As Manoah got Javier Báez to go down swinging to complete the sixth, the 6-foot-6, 285-pounder jogged and skipped off the mound to bump knuckles with catcher .

“Yeah, when he’s good, he’s feeling it,” said manager John Schneider. “When he’s competing, that’s what he does. That was one of the things we were looking for that kind of eluded him a little bit from the start of the season.

“It was great for the team to feel that energy that he does bring.”

The 25-year-old Manoah just didn’t have it over his first 13 starts this season. He was 1-7 with a 6.36 ERA and had walked 42 in 58 innings after walking just 51 in 196 2/3 innings last season. That good control was back in this start, as he threw strikes on 64 of 91 pitches.

“When he's in the strike zone, he beats you,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch.

Added Schneider: “I thought he was great. His command was good; he was in the zone. … I thought his delivery was really good.”

Much of Schneider’s pregame media session dealt with questions about how and why Manoah returned so quickly.

“He knows the kind of pitcher he is,” said Schneider. “And he was chomping at the bit to get back here. So, it’s probably a bigger deal to outside people than it is to him. He just wants to be here to help us win. That’s the part he was missing the most. That’s why he’s in the mood he’s in; he’s happy to be back.”

Manoah gave up 11 runs on 10 hits with two homers in 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees’ Rookie-level team in the Florida Complex League in his first Minor League outing after his demotion, but he rebounded at Double-A New Hampshire, throwing five innings and allowing one run on three hits with 10 strikeouts.

The Blue Jays were convinced he was ready to return after that outing, as well as after watching him throw “in a cage with four high-speed cameras,” according to Schneider.

“It shows you how you’re throwing mechanically, stride length,” said Schneider. “The time it takes you to strike your foot, and where your arm is in relation to that -- and compare and contrast.

“It gives you a good baseline of where players were, and where they are now. The goal was to see where he was delivery-wise, and we saw some small differences in terms of timing and things like that. … And again, I think gathering the information that we did, and kind of watching him progress through it, is why we felt like he was ready to come back.”

Manoah said of his delivery: “We’re just putting the body in a better position to be efficient. … I feel like I’m in a really good spot, and being able to see over time some bad habits [you] create and just getting away from those and what makes me good. And that’s staying tall on the mound, working downhill and attacking.”

The Blue Jays scored six times in the fourth inning -- highlighted by ’s two-run homer off the left-field foul pole -- to give Manoah a definitive lead after Detroit scratched out a run in the third to tie the game at 1-1.

“I got my butt kicked and had two decisions,” said Manoah, whose only previous 2023 win came April 5 in seven scoreless innings of a 3-0 victory in Kansas City. “I could lay down and let everyone down or fight my way back.”

Schneider summed it up well: “I’m happy for him and the way that he handled the last month and put the work in, and I know that he’s thrilled to be back here. We get that man, and we’re in a good spot.

“It’s just a shot in the arm. I know he finished third in the Cy Young last year, and we’re not asking him to be a world-beater. But he’s a big part of who we are, and what we’re going to continue to try to be.”