MINNEAPOLIS — With his big body doing its electric thing, Alek Manoah was cruising on a near-perfect summer night in the Twin Cities.
Retiring the first 10 batters he faced at Target Field on Thursday, it looked like it was going to be one of those dominant outings for the Blue Jays 6-foot-6, 260-pound all star right hander.
And then his night — which ultimately would end in a 9-3 blowout win over the Twins — was put to the test.
A Carlos Correa grounder went off the back of Manoah’s arm and resulted in an infield hit. What could have unravelled after a pair of walks loaded the bases later in the frame, instead saw Manoah limit the Twins to a single run in that fourth inning.
It wasn’t his prettiest effort at times, but it sure was efficient. In yet another start that he threw six complete, Manoah held the Twins to just two hits and two runs, at times willing his way through the assignment.
Manoah walked four in the contest to go with his five strikeouts on a 97-pitch night, but never truly seemed in danger of folding. Hostile environments be damned as Manoah has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his 11 road starts this season.
That’s what the Jays continue to get from their most reliable starter, however — a competitive drive that matches his talent.
Through 21 starts now, Manoah has logged 132 innings, an impressive workload for a 24-year-old navigating his first full season in the big leagues.
“He’s a big strong dude who understands what to do,” said Jays manager John Schneider. “He knows when to step off the gas and when to step off the gas, when to left off of it.
“I think he fits that mould to where he’s at the point of being a workhorse.”
This being 2022, it’s unlikely that Manoah will be the first Jays pitcher to reach 200 innings since Marcus Stroman did so in 2017. But his beastly qualities have been impressive.
“I think he’s strong enough,” Schneider said. “We’re comfortable with him (and his workload) and what he does between (starts).”
In what was shaping up to be a tight ball game, Manoah improved to 12-5 with a little help from his friends, new and old, as the game turned lopsided in the late going.
A three-run sixth gave the Jays their first lead of the night, a margin that was supplemented by a six-back in the eighth. It was a solid start to the four-game series against the Twins, one that already has a healthy dose of Canadian fans from Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Kenora and the like among the sellout crowd of 39,030.
Besides his defensive versatility, the Jays are enthused about the speed Whit Merrifield has and plan to use it accordingly.
They didn’t have to wait long, either.
In his third at-bat – and with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at third — a sharp ground ball up the middle resulted in an infield base hit (with the help of Twins first baseman Luis Arreaz bobbling the ball.
Whitfield showed similar wheels in that big eighth inning, blitzing home from second on Springer’s relatively routine single up the middle.
Schneider certainly likes the dynamic Merrifield brings on the bases.
“We talked about spots he likes to run and what he likes to do on the bases,” Schneider said of Whitfield, who also looked comfortable in centre field. “It’s cool to talk to a guy like that who really has a passion for it. He’s going to fit right in.
“He’s got the green light and he’s ready to go.”
WHAT A RELIEF?
Would the Jays have preferred to land a higher impact reliever at the trade deadline? Of course.
But as the market played out and as Tuesday’s 6 p.m. cutoff approached team’s that had some of the most attractive arms either didn’t want to part with players who had multiple years of team control or were asking too much.
That left the additions of Anthony Bass and Canadian Zach Pop as the two arms most viable for general manager Ross Atkins.
Both Bass and Pop were active and in the bullpen for Thursday’s opener of the four-game series here.
Popp was warming in the bullpen twice but didn’t get into the game. Bass, meanwhile, came in to mop things up in the ninth and gave up a home run.
AROUND THE BASES
Clearly the Jays will only go as far at their offence will take them and a late-game outburst on Thursday was the latest evidence. A 13-hit night was highlighted by a six-run eighth inning that included a line drive three-run homer from Vlad Guerrero Jr. (his 22nd) and a bases-loaded single from George Springer that scored a pair … To make room for the new bodies, the Jays optioned catcher Zack Collins and relievers Matt Gage and Matt Peacock to triple-A Buffalo … The Jays entered Thursday’s game with a 13-4 record since July 12, the best in the AL since then … A hot night at the plate for Bo Bichette included a pair of two-baggers and a single.