Jays’ Alec Manoh looks like old self in Double-A start

MANCHESTER, NH – The Blue Jays changed everything about their environment before handing the ball to Alec Manoa for another minor-league debut, and it worked.

The right-hander’s opening sojourn, last week in the Florida Complex League, was played on a back field in bright Florida sunshine on a hot afternoon. No crowd, no public address announcer, and a bunch of teenagers hacking away at the only big-league pitcher most of them will never face. It did not go well, as Manoh recorded only eight dismissals while giving up 11 runs.

For his second flight, the Jays sent him north to New Hampshire to pitch for the Double-A Fisher Cats. A night game to throw Manoh under the lights. A real crowd—anticipated anyway—at fireworks night during Fourth of July weekend. The threat of rain kept many of them away.

Still, for Manoh it was like a real baseball environment to work against more advanced players who would be much less likely to swing wildly at anything. He pitched five innings, allowing only one run, three hits, and three walks, while striking out 10.

The start of the tour was very good. Wearing an unfamiliar number 43, Manoh struck out the first pitch to each of the first three batters he faced, allowing a single (likely would have been turned into an out by a major league defense) and struck out on fly balls. Cleanup hitter Nathan Hickey walked on four pitches before a pair came back to end the inning by striking out Niko Kavadas.

Manoa threw 17 pitches in the first inning, 10 of which were strikes, his fastball ranging from 92 to 94 mph. He began the second by drilling leadoff man Matthew Lugo with a 92-mph fastball that looked familiar. The big right-hander led the league in hit batsmen in his first two seasons when he was pitching well. He struck out five in his 58 major league innings this season.

Manoh was clearly working on mechanics, distribution and strike-throwing, with opponents the Portland Sea Dogs making it a track meet at every opportunity. Lugo stole second, then Manoh almost picked it off. The next batter, Alex Binelas, hit a soft line to the right to score it.

Binellas was also running, although catcher Phil Clark threw him out. Manoh’s second walk was followed by another stolen base, but Manoh steeled himself and struck out the next two hitters on fastballs, 93 and 94.

The fastball was a great weapon for the 25-year-old, who is trying to make a comeback to the big leagues. Manoh came into dominant form in the middle innings—at one point striking out eight of nine batters, most of them on fastballs.

The only hitter he didn’t strike out on that run was top Red Sox prospect Marcelo Meyer, who smashed a line drive that hit Manoh Flush on the upper leg. The big man recovered, threw out Mayer, and proceeded to strike out the next five hitters he faced after a few warm-up pitches.

By the fifth inning, the old Manoh Swagger was visible on the mound. After inking York via a dirty slider, he blasted the Sea Dogs’ second baseman with a 95-mph fastball, his hardest pitch of the night. Then Manoa literally leapt off the mound on his way to the dugout, showing more joy in that minute than he had in his last few months in the big leagues.

He’s not back yet, but he took a big step forward with those 82 pitches, 47 of which were strikes, on an otherwise dreary night in New Hampshire.

Mike Wilner is the Toronto-based baseball columnist for The Star and host of the baseball podcast “Deep Left Field.” Follow him on Twitter: @willnarness

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