Manoah, Ryu close off field & they're foodies

September 25th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Back on May 31, sat in his hotel room in Buffalo, N.Y., watching a Yankees game, laying low on his first off-day in the big leagues. , the star pitcher and veteran of many off-days, was at Niagara Falls.

Manoah, scrolling through Instagram, saw this and swiped up to reply.

“Hey, man. Don’t fall in.”

He'd kept his distance from the veteran starters, wanting to respect their time while still learning from them through Spring Training and his early days with the Blue Jays, but this was the beginning of the education of Alek Manoah.

“He responded to me and he was like, ‘What are you doing?’" Manoah said. “I sent him a picture, I think I was watching a Yankees game in the hotel room. That was the first time where he was like, ‘Are you by yourself?’ I said yes, and he said to come to his room. He had ordered food."

Since then, Manoah and Ryu have become the Blue Jays’ odd couple. Manoah, still 23, is one of the biggest personalities on the team, buzzing with energy and confidence, riffing one-line catch phrases like a heavyweight boxer. Ryu, now 34, seems to be Manoah’s opposite. He’s seen it all, done it all and his heartbeat rarely flickers above its resting rate.

At least, that’s what we see on the field. Behind the scenes, Ryu the person is different than Ryu the pitcher. He cracks jokes just like everyone else, Manoah says, and ensures that young pitchers are included. Ryu has taken Manoah under his wing, quietly and effectively.

“He’s a huge role model. He’s definitely like a big brother to me, somebody that I can look up to,” Manoah said. “He’s been through a lot of the things that I’m going to be getting ready to go through. He’s been in my footsteps before. I just have a ton of respect for him and everything he’s done in the league."

Their real work comes at the dinner table, though. Whether it’s Korean barbecue or a steakhouse, if you’re rolling with Ryu, you’re eating well.

Ryu has introduced Manoah to some new favorites, too. There’s one that stands out, first made for Manoah by Ryu’s chef.

“The one big one that I liked, but I was kind of iffy at first on, was a seafood pancake,” Manoah explained. “It’s literally a pancake -- no batter, no bread -- but it’s a bunch of different squid, fish, shrimp, all of this stuff, fried like a pancake. Then they serve it. It had vegetables and things like that, and you dip it in this little sauce. At first, I was like, ‘What? Seafood pancake?’ Now, every time we go eat I’m like, ‘Hey, seafood pancake.’”

These aren’t small plates, either. With Manoah standing 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds and Ryu coming in at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, these are big league dinners.

“Yeah. We can eat some food," said Manoah.

This rotation’s wealth of knowledge extends well beyond Ryu, of course. There’s Robbie Ray, who’s making a fine case for the American League Cy Young Award, and José Berríos, one of the game’s steadiest arms. By taking lessons from each, Manoah has hit the ground running in the Majors, immediately becoming a core piece of this rotation's present and future:

On Hyun Jin Ryu: “It was June or July and he was struggling a little bit with his changeup and we were both looking at his video. While watching his video, I kind of learned something about my mechanics and my shoulders.”

On José Berríos: “I learned a lot from Berríos, because we both have similar mechanics, we’re both on the right side of the rubber. He looks like he’s throwing across his body, but then he lands straight. There’s a lot of times that I do land across my body, so I’ve been getting pointers from him on how he focuses on his back knee, so I’ve been able to learn from that and stay directional with my back knee.”

On Robbie Ray: “The way he gets going in his bullpens, the rhythm that he gets into. There’s a lot of times where I would go and start throwing, and I’m already in my windup, whereas he might just throw a few to just get a rhythm. Then, once you get into your windup, it’s a lot easier, so I’ve learned about rhythm from him.”

The magic ingredient here, Manoah’s coaches say, is the openness to learn. Confidence is an important piece to the equation, and Manoah has enough for an entire roster, but a stubborn confidence caps a player’s ceiling. Instead, Manoah is succeeding with not just his own talent, but the talent of those around him.