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Manoah feeling confident again after down year

DUNEDIN, Fla. – With face aglow and a spring in his step, right-hander Alek Manoah was a distinct presence in the Blue Jays’ locker room Friday as players milled about before their daily workout.

Gone was the sullen look — a common appearance during a down year in 2023 — of a pitcher who couldn’t find his groove.

In its place was the smile that was so prevalent in his first two seasons with the team along with the fist-bumping, backslapping gregarious personality that was somewhat muted last summer.

“I feel like it was a really big growing year for me,” Manoah said. “I kind of needed it to be where I’m at right now.”

Spring training is just a couple days old and Manoah is still at least a week away from playing in a pre-season game. But the confidence certainly appears to be back.

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Looking lean and sporting a new hairstyle and thick beard, the six-foot-six 285-pounder has impressed with his early mound work.

“It’s what we’ve been accustomed to seeing from Alek, which is really refreshing,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider.

After an all-star season in 2022, Manoah was tabbed for Toronto’s Opening Day start last spring. His season quickly went off the rails and he was unable to get things on track.

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Manoah was demoted to the rookie-level Florida Complex League in June, was called back up in July and sent down to Triple-A Buffalo in August. He reportedly refused to report to the Bisons on the expected timeline and didn’t pitch once he eventually arrived.

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The Blue Jays shut him down in September after he received multiple injections in his pitching arm.

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“Talking about 2023, for me, is kind of not worth it,” Manoah said. “It’s in the past right now for me, which is really good. It was a tough year.”

After the season ended, Manoah made some changes to his diet and his workout routine.

“I just feel like this off-season was an extreme focus to detail (on) little things,” he said. “Then, over time, it just created some big changes.”

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Schneider, pitching coach Pete Walker and several teammates watched Manoah’s throwing session on the opening day of camp at the team’s development complex. It’s early, but he looked more like the commanding force that regularly handcuffed hitters in 2021 and ’22.

“I think he did a lot of reflecting on his year and how it turned out,” Schneider said. “Based on how he looks right now, I think he went about it the right way.”

Manoah, 26, had never experienced struggles at the big-league level like he did last season. He did, however, endure an up-and-down season in 2018 at West Virginia University and noticed some mechanical similarities.

“I was actually pretty confident that we’d be able to make the adjustment and make the change,” he said. “I feel pretty good about where we’re at right now.”

The No. 5 spot in a deep rotation appears to have Manoah’s name in pencil. A solid spring would likely seal a rotation spot for a pitcher who finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2022.

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“Every time I throw a baseball, it’s to help this team win a World Series,” Manoah said. “They don’t give out World Series trophies in Triple-A. So I want to be with the team.”

Drafted 11th overall in 2019, Manoah was 9-2 with a 3.22 earned-run average over 20 starts in his rookie season. A 16-7 mark followed in 2022 with a sparkling 2.24 ERA.

“For me, it’s about remembering that bulldog that I have inside,” he said. “Remember all the passion that I have and all the hard work I’ve put in. Then go out there and just execute it.”

Manoah admitted he would overthink at times last year and it built up on him. He finished the season with a 3-9 record and 5.87 ERA.

“The ‘me’ is the guy that grabs the ball,” Manoah said. “Who cares what the technology says. Who cares what the scoreboard says. Who cares what anything says.

“I’m going out there and I’m attacking you. And I feel really good about being that guy again this year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2024.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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