Against the Odds: Alek Manoah on fast track to Cy Young consideration

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 17: Alek Manoah #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning of their MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 17, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 17: Alek Manoah #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the first inning of their MLB game against the Oakland Athletics at Rogers Centre on April 17, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah, less than a year into his big-league career, has already blossomed into an elite pitcher and a potential Cy Young Award candidate

There’s something special about Alek Manoah when he steps on a big-league mound. The confidence he could dominate an opposing lineup that belies his relative inexperience. The faith his Toronto Blue Jays teammates have that, when he’s starting, they have a better chance to win. He’s become so good, so young, arguably the ace of a pitching staff full of All-Stars and Cy Young candidates.

In his first start, 10 days ago, Manoah walked into Yankee Stadium and shut out the Bronx Bombers on one hit over six innings. The Blue Jays won. They won again in his second start, against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. And winning is something that Manoah does a lot of. The Blue Jays haven’t lost in his last 10 starts dating back to last Aug. 23, the fifth-longest unbeaten streak in franchise history. Max Scherzer is the only starting pitcher with a longer active streak.

Since that streak began, Manoah is third in the American League with a 2.77 ERA, behind only Logan Gilbert and Frankie Montas. He has the fifth-highest strikeouts per nine innings rate. Only Gerrit Cole and former teammate Robbie Ray, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, are better at missing bats.

Alek Manoah AL Cy Young odds

Manoah’s rise, less than a year after his Major League debut, is finally being recognized. WynnBet gives him the seventh-best odds at +1500 to join Ray as an AL Cy Young winner.

But it’s easy to forget watching him on the mound just how early in his career this 24-year-old is. He had only 18 innings above Single-A before he was called up to make his first start last May 27. Coming into the 2022 season, he had appeared in just 20 big league games. Fernando Valenzuela, in the height of “Fernandomania” in 1981, was the last pitcher to win the Cy Young despite having that little experience at the beginning of the season. A pitcher hasn’t won the award as early as his second season since Tim Lincecum in 2008.

Alek Manoah projections: What to expect

Under the guidance of pitching coach Pete Walker, who transformed Ray from a walk-prone pitcher to one of the game’s elite, Manoah has steadily refined his repertoire and learned how to attack big-league lineups. His fastball this season has more vertical movement than it did a year ago. He’s thrown 114 fastballs and sliders over his first two starts and has given up just one hit.

He’s also incorporated another pitch, a changeup, into his arsenal. Against the Yankees on April 11, Manoah threw 15 changeups, 17 percent of his 89 pitches on the night. Last year, his changeup percentage was only nine percent. The Yankees put only one in play, a pop-up by Giancarlo Stanton in the second inning, while also swinging and missing at four. He pitched as finesse as a 6-6, 285-pound pitcher could be.

Manoah gave up only two hits in his MLB debut last May at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees only got one off him last Monday, a single up the middle by Joey Gallo. Since the Yankees began playing at Yankee Stadium in 1923, only four visiting pitchers have ever had multiple starts of at least six shutout innings with no more than two hits. One is Blue Jays icon Dave Stieb. Another is a Cy Young winner, Felix Hernandez. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer is another. Manoah is the fourth.

Just 22 games into his career, Manoah has four starts in which he went six innings and gave up no runs and two or fewer hits, tied with Michael Fulmer for most of any pitcher in the Live Ball Era. “He just gives us a chance. Everybody feels it when he takes the mound,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told after defeating the Athletics on Sunday. “It’s what I always used to say about him. He gives you a chance, throws strikes and he doesn’t back down from anybody.”

Manoah is able to ramp up his fastball to 96 mph and blow it past opposing batters when he needs to. He’s able to baffle them with an assortment of off-speed pitches, leaving his opponents flailing at air. He’s become a complete pitcher, the prototypical staff ace that is a threat to win every time he steps on the mound.

It won’t be long before he starts getting recognized for it.

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