Manoah delivers classic, tenacious performance in Blue Jays win over Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — Look, Alek Manoah’s going to hit some dudes. He clocked an American League-high 16 in only 111.2 innings pitched last season. He entered Thursday’s start defending his AL title with 10. You want to take command of the inner half of the plate? You want to throw front-hip sinkers to right-handers and back-foot sliders to lefties? Yeah, you’re going to hit some dudes.

But you never want to hit a dude with the bases loaded, as Manoah did in the bottom of the fourth inning Thursday, plunking Jose Miranda with a 94-mph sinker that got away and caught the Minnesota Twins third baseman on the left wrist. You could hear the impact around the ball park. You could hear Miranda’s groan, too. It took him some time just to get back to his feet.

Of course, Manoah wasn’t trying to hit him. Manoah moved “my bad” to Miranda once he’d gathered himself and reached first base.

But Manoah’s not about to shy away from his approach, either. He’s effective because he’s aggressive. He’s efficient because he attacks. He gets whiffs with mid-90s heaters on the plate because hitters aren’t comfortable standing in against him. He’s going to keep doing what he does; he’s going to keep hitting dudes.

And he’s going to keep grinding, as Manoah did Thursday, working around the bases-loaded hit batter and four walks to log six innings of two-run ball in a 9-3 Blue Jays victory over the Twins.

It was Manoah’s 17th quality start in 21 outings this season. He pushed him further into uncharted workload waters, as he reached 132 innings pitched on the year. And it was classic, tenacious Manoah, as he evenly mixed four-seamers off two-seamers off sliders, stalked the mound after strikeouts, and repeatedly found big pitches when he needed them.

And those pitches kept getting firmer as he went. Manoah started his night sitting 93-94 mph and finished it at 95-96. Thirteen of his 15 hardest pitches on the night came in the fifth and sixth innings, including a couple that reached 97. Gaining velocity over the course of an outing isn’t something a lot of 24-year-old starters can do. That’s Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon stuff. But here in his sophomore season, Manoah seems to be figuring it out.

Was his control erratic at times? Yes. Did he have his best changeup? No. Could he have pitched deeper into the game if he didn’t start spraying the ball his second trip through the order? Certainly. But did Manoah give his team a half-dozen low-scoring innings and put them in a great position to win? Absolutely. And that’s what he’s done far more often than not through his first two big-league seasons. He’s found a way to get the job done.

And after struggling to cash runners early against Twins starter Sonny Gray, who stranded five walks, Manoah’s offense found a way to do theirs. Teoscar Hernandez put Toronto on the board in the sixth, punishing a 3-2 splitter from Gray’s replacement, Emilio Pagan, and hitting it about as high as he did far:

And the Blue Jays continued teeing off on Pagan from there, as Bo Bichette ripped a two-strike double to the wall before Lourdes Gurriel Jr. drove him in with a two-strike single up the middle. Gurriel scored himself on Whit Merrifield’s first hit as a Blue Jay, a 100-mph grounder to Miranda, who had to rush to make a play to beat the speedy center fielder to first and botched it.

Flash forward to the top of the eighth and it was Bichette, Gurriel and Merrifield repeating the procession — double, single and single — this time against Trevor Megill, who throws 98 and entered the outing with a 1.93 ERA. Megill’s power ultimately gave way to Tyler Duffey’s finesse, and the Blue Jays had little trouble with that approach, either. Cavan Biggio and George Springer came up with quick singles against the right-hander, which set up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to do what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. does:

Hang a 3-1 breaking ball on the inner half to that guy at your own peril. No one hit a ball harder all night.

And suddenly, what was shaping up as a tight game following Manoah’s determined performance became a laugher. After averaging 3.14 runs over their previous seven games, the Blue Jays needed it. They scored as many runs Thursday as they did over their last three games combined. And they handily beat a good team, a division leader that aggressively loaded up at Thursday’s deadline.

In the end, every Blue Jays starter reached base at least once. Alejandro Kirk walked three times. Five Blue Jays came away with multi-hit games. And Manoah came away with a hit of his own — his 11th plunked batter of the season.

It’s going to happen. And Manoah gets it. He’s worn a couple himself lately, including the Jonathan Schoop comebacker that shot off his pitching elbow and ended his start last Friday, and a Carlos Correa liner in Thursday’s fourth inning that thudded off his upper left arm.

But if we’ve learned something about Manoah over his 41 starts as a Blue Jay it’s that the big man can grind through some stuff. And when things go awry, he can find his way through.

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