Alek Manoah’s confidence, charisma helping him find footing in MLB

by Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer

In mid-May, the Cincinnati Reds traveled to Toronto for a rare interleague matchup against the Blue Jays. Before the first of three games, a few Jays pitchers huddled to plot their plans against a Reds lineup littered with journeymen and unknown rookies.

Veteran Kevin Gausman, new to the team, shared what he knew about the likes of Tyler Naquin and Tommy Pham from his time in the National League. When Gausman reached Joey Votto, Cincinnati’s cleanup hitter, he figured he did not have to summarize the 38-year-old’s credentials or strengths.

But boisterous second-year starter Alek Manoah spoke up: Who was he?

“Man,” Gausman said, “Joey Votto’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

“How long has he been playing?” Manoah asked.

“You don’t know him?” an incredible Gausman replied.

“Not that much,” Manoah confessed.

Gausman could only laugh and supply his scouting report. The next day, Votto drove in Cincinnati’s lone run with a double, but Manoah recovered to fire eight efficient innings in victory. This is how it goes for the 24-year-old right-hander who does not study the sport like most of his peers.

“He’s so young that he still doesn’t know some of the guys he’s facing,” Gausman said. “He’s like: ‘Tell me about this guy. Does he have time in the big leagues?’ And you’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s got 10 years. You don’t know so-and-so? He was on that 2009 World Series team. He played for this team and this team and this team.’

“And he’s like, ‘No.'”

Manoah does not dispute these accounts.

“I’d rather just play,” he said. “Play and figure it out from there.”

His strategy has been unassailable. Through 18 starts this season, Manoah owned a 2.28 ERA over 114 2/3 innings. Fifteen times in 2022, he has held his opponents to two or fewer earned runs.

The 11th pick of the 2019 draft, Manoah made only nine minor-league starts before his major-league debut in May 2021. He earned votes for AL Rookie of the Year last season and an All-Star nod this season. He is clearly capable of dominating men he does not know.

“At first, you’re like, ‘Is he bulls—ting me?’ But, no, that’s really who he is,” Gausman said. “I think a little part of that is why he’s so good. He has full confidence in himself. He feels like he’s the best guy out there at any given moment.”

At 6-foot-6 and at least 285 pounds, Manoah is a few pounds away from boasting the body of a prototypical NFL left tackle. But he pitches with more finesse than that makes it sound.

Because of his 93 mph sinker, he rates exactly average in terms of generating strikeouts but in the 97th percentile in generating weak contact. He can coax grounders out of the best of them, even in the elite AL East. Yankees star Aaron Judge is 1-for-14 against Manoah. Red Sox star Rafael Devers isn’t much better.

“Pitching to my strengths is the biggest thing,” Manoah said. “Sometimes, not knowing a guy’s weakness can kinda help me out in just attacking him.”

In other words, when Gausman tells him a hitter can handle sinkers, Manoah asks: “Well, what about my sinker?”

Toronto’s season to this point has been bumpier than the organization and industry expected. 2021 All-Stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández have all fallen short of expectations. Prized trade acquisitions José Berríos and Matt Chapman, too, have disappointed. Hyun-jin Ryu is out for the year. And the team recently fired its manager, Charlie Montoyo.

But the Blue Jays remain more likely than not to make the postseason, in significant part due to Manoah, their burgeoning ace and preeminent source of entertainment. As he demonstrated while wearing a microphone on FOX during the All-Star Game broadcast, Manoah is comfortable talking through anything.

He even asked broadcasters Joe Davis and John Smoltz for real-time suggestions on how to pitch Joc Pederson.

“I didn’t read the scouting report,” Manoah admitted.

He still struck out the side, ended himself to millions and screamed as he sprinted off the mound.

“I didn’t realize he was as outgoing as he is,” Gausman said earlier this year as he stood in foul territory at Angel Stadium. “He could talk to this dirt right here. He just has a way about him, and it’s infectious.”

Last week, that energy earned him some fans among his All-Star teammates, and Manoah even knew some of them. He begged Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, two of his childhood idols, for a photo during the festivities. He asked Justin Verlander, a nine-time All-Star, for advice.

Verlander noted that Manoah’s career trajectory mirrors his.

“He didn’t spend much time in the minors,” Verlander said. “He’s had a lot of success early on in his career. To be able to do that, I know how difficult that is. I really enjoy watching him pitch.”

Manoah studies Verlander, too. It’s not as if he knows no big leagues. Slowly, surely, he is gaining a grasp of the league.

“If he’s ever faced a guy,” Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano said, “he knows who he is, and he knows how to get him out.”

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and, before that, the Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and LA Times. More previously, he covered his alma mater, USC, for ESPNLosAngeles.com. The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in the Southern California suburbs. His first book, “How to Beat a Broken Game,” came out this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.


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