A healthy number of Toronto Blue Jays fans made the trip south of the border to Detroit on Friday to witness Alek Manoah’s highly anticipated return to the majors, and the 2022 All-Star did not disappoint.
Manoah, surprisingly announced as the starter for Friday’s series opener against the Tigers, arrived at Comerica Park almost exactly a month after being optioned to the Florida Complex League on June 6. While some believed this move to be premature, the 25-year-old proved that he was ready for the moment in Toronto's 12-2 win.
The Blue Jays righty, facing one of the worst offences in baseball, completed six innings of one-run ball on 91 pitches, allowing five hits — all singles — and recording eight strikeouts. He retired nine consecutive batters at one point.
Most importantly, Manoah attacked the strike zone effectively and didn’t walk a single batter during his outing, accomplishing that feat for the first time in 27 starts — including playoffs — dating to July 23, 2022.
Manoah, who allowed 11 runs in his first minor-league start before enjoying a 10-strikeout performance at Double-A New Hampshire on Sunday, threw 64 of his 91 pitches for strikes (70.3% rate) before being replaced by Mitch White in the seventh inning.
Toronto’s coaching staff wanted to see the 2022 Cy Young Award finalist throw more strikes, and while he missed catcher Danny Jansen’s target at times, he certainly threw enough to overmatch Detroit’s inexperienced lineup. In total, 19 of Manoah's 23 first pitches landed in the strike zone, resulting in an 82.6% clip, the highest of his career.
Aside from a few wild fastballs, which led to extended at-bats, Manoah’s command was much improved compared to where it was prior to last month’s demotion.
A point of emphasis for Manoah was to finish batters in two-strike counts, as opponents were hitting .250/.357/.424 with a .346 wOBA heading into Friday. This time, though, the Tigers went 3-for-14 with two strikes.
The right-hander’s fastball velocity was unaltered, falling right in line with his season average at 92.7 mph. But velocity isn’t what makes that offering special. Command is far more meaningful, which helped induce seven whiffs on 17 swings, including three punchouts.
Manoah didn’t have a perfect slider, averaging just 10 inches of horizontal break, 3 fewer than his season average, but the pitch still played an important role, generating four whiffs on 19 swings. He will surely be aiming for improved command in his next start, though.
The pitch clock also didn’t seem to affect the 6-foot-6 hurler, who displayed increased pace with his delivery, releasing most of his pitches with plenty of time to spare.
Thanks to a six-run fourth inning, Manoah was treated to seven runs of support before he departed after the sixth inning, leaving with his team leading 7-1 over the Tigers.
Manoah now heads into the All-Star break with a 5.91 ERA and an 18.4% strikeout rate over 66 innings in 14 starts this season.