A captivating ace, Manoah puts on a show vs. Royals

A captivating ace, Manoah puts on a show vs. Royals

3:40 AM UTC

KANSAS CITY — Welcome back to the Alek Manoah show.

This season had a rocky premiere episode, but Manoah’s performance in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over the Royals got back to the show’s roots. There was just enough drama to keep things interesting, but longtime viewers know Manoah’s outings tend to end with him on top.

Manoah has a knack for creating the intrigue around himself, too. He walked four batters and hit another — starting three consecutive innings with a free pass at one point — and didn’t have his best velocity on a cold night in Kansas City. He’s always had an extra gear that kicks in with runners on base, though, and the further Manoah gets into his young career, it’s becoming clearer that it’s his trademark, not a run of good fortune.

The seven shutout innings with just one hit allowed looked like the 2022 Manoah, who finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting with a 2.24 ERA over 196 2/3 innings. His ’23 debut in St. Louis last week was so unlike Manoah, allowing five runs over just 3 1/3 frames, but “Big Puma” is one of baseball’s best bets to bounce back.

“I think it’s the red shorts he’s rocking right now,” said John Schneider, grinning as Manoah bounded past, shirtless and celebrating. “He’s a fiery competitor. He understands the situations of games and he does not want to come out. He has a different gear. We see it a lot, we saw it last year and we saw it again tonight.”

Ask around, and the most common definition you’ll hear for an ace is a pitcher who stops losing streaks and extends winning streaks. That will be Manoah at times, but even more broadly, Manoah brings a sense of calm to this team. Add in Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s first home run of the season, an opposite-field shot in the eighth, and this finally felt like the Blue Jays club we expected to see.

Manoah is no secret around baseball, either. He’s no longer the hotshot rookie from 2021 who may have crept up on some lineups. Instead, he’s in the crosshairs, the big name who young hitters want to take down.

That’s why, even when the Royals saw some low numbers on the radar gun to start the outing, the knew they didn’t have a sudden advantage.

“If you were to ask him, his velo was a little down from where it normally was. I think the first pitch of the game was 87,” said No. 3 hitter Vinnie Pasquantino. “But he did a really nice job of using that to his advantage tonight. He just did a nice job. He’s their Opening Day starter for a reason, and hats off to him.”

Manoah truly sets the tone for this Blue Jays team when he’s at his best. That’s an overused idea in sports, but as Manoah goes, so do the Blue Jays.

“With Manoah, every five days he’s out there to give you all he’s got,” Guerrero said through a club interpreter. “All of our pitchers do. Then, when you see that as a group, all of the position players need to do the same thing, to go out there and give it all we’ve got.”

This extends directly to the Blue Jays’ defense, too, which is why Manoah was one of the biggest fans of the Blue Jays’ offseason moves.

In came Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier, two exceptional defenders who have paired with George Springer to create one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Then there’s Matt Chapman, who has made defense his own art form at third base, and even Guerrero, whose development into a Gold Glove first baseman has been remarkable to witness.

Manoah is not the pitcher who will strike out 275 batters over 200 innings. He’s going to put the ball in play, often by design, and let his defense go to work. It’s not a lesser style, it’s just a different style.

“They’re amazing,” Manoah said of his fielders. “Their first step is really a difference-maker. It kind of feels like they’re moving before the ball is even hit. They’re really fast as well and they made some great plays out there today. We’ve got to utilize those guys.”

If there’s a pitcher who can choose to do exactly that, it’s Manoah. Now that the big man is back to looking like the pitcher we all expected to see, the Blue Jays are starting to look like the team everyone expected, too.

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