Shaky start, strong finish marks Toronto Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah’s start with AA Fisher Cats
By Zach Laing5 months ago
Sunday night saw Alek Manoah get his first start against high level competition on the mound in nearly a month.
But last year’s AL Cy Young finalist didn’t get this start in the big leagues, no — he got it in AA ball for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
And while his night started shakily allowing five of the first eight batters faced to reach base — two by hits, two by walks, and one hit by pitch — it ended off strong. Manoah threw 82 pitches across 5.0 IP by night’s end striking out 10 of the 20 Portland Sea Dogs batters he faced. Along with the whiffs, he allowed three hits, three walks and just one earned run against batters a few years away.
The first batter faced, Philip Sikes, reached on a line drive single to center field before Nick Yorke and Marcelo Mayer both flew out. Sikes stole second, and Manoah issued a four-pitch walk to Nathan Hickey. He, however, responded by striking out Niko Kavadas on six pitches to end the inning.
The second didn’t start great. Manoah’s first pitch got away from him hitting Matthew Lugo, who then stole second base in short order. Alex Binelas drove him home off a single as Manoah then walked the next batter he faced, Corey Rosier, on six pitches.
But then, something changed.
Manoah struck out Elih Marrero, the ninth batter in the order, and the lineup flipped over as Sikes struck out to end the second.
In the top of the third, he retired the side in order on 12 pitches fanning two and getting another out off a lineout. The fourth saw Manoah use 16 pitches — only four of which balls — to strike out the side in order. Everyone briefly held their breath, however, as he had to shake off a comebacker that caught him in the thigh with the inning ending.
And in the fifth, after Manoah struck out Rosier to start the inning, his streak of retiring nine straight batters ended as Marrero hit a single into right field. His last pitch of a night, a fastball in the top of the zone, caught Yorke swinging.
Manoah’s night saw him top out at 95 mph on the radar gun and despite struggling with his command early, he was able to reel it in as the game went on. His fastball was locating the top of the zone, and while some of his early sliders were down and into the ground on the many left-handed Sea Dogs batters, they found their spot in the bottom of the zone as the game went on.
There have been few bigger stories around baseball this season than that of Manoah’s struggles with the fall from grace being significant. The brakes were pumped on a disastrous start to his third year of baseball in the bigs back in early June when the Toronto Blue Jays sent him down to their complex in Florida.
It came just days after Manoah was blasted by the Houston Astros, who jacked him up on one trip through the order for six earned runs off seven hits. He managed just one out.
Concern over Manoah’s game had been building since opening day when he got the start against the St. Louis Cardinals — a game where-in he allowed five earned runs off nine hits and two walks across 3.1 IP. Talk was that his trip to Florida would allow him to find his game, but a week ago Tuesday, unsettling word crept out of the Sunny state.
Manoah allowed 11 earned runs in 2.2 IP against a bunch of 17-20-year-olds in Single-A ball. You don’t want to be allowing 10 hits, two walks and two home runs to those kind of players.
But Sunday night’s start for the Fisher Cats is a good sign as Manoah looked like himself.
What’s to come is still unknown. The Blue Jays are hitting the road starting Tuesday with three-game sets against the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. Since he left the team, Trevor Richards and Bowden Francis have been filling in with the former as the opener and the latter taking bulk innings.
The pair — or Manoah, should the Jays feel he’s ready — wouldn’t be expected to take the mound for the Jays until Friday, so there’s more than enough time for the organization to figure out where he is at.
That Friday, however, would line up perfectly for him to get another start with the Fisher Cats ahead of the major league’s All-Star break, which kicks off next Monday.
No matter what the coming weeks and months hold, Manoah — and the rest of Blue Jays Nation — should feel good about his showing on Sunday night.
Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at email@example.com.
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