PITTSBURGH — Alek Manoah is possibly the last guy who needs to manufacture emotion for bump day, as he likes to refer to his turn in the rotation.
But it didn’t hurt that scattered among the Blue Jays-heavy crowd among the 18,057 at PNC Park on Friday night were hundreds of familiar faces from both his past and his present.
A college star at West Virginia, just 120 km south on I-79, there was a hefty Mountaineer presence in the crowd, some of them left over from the Backyard Brawl football game the night before against Pitt.
As he so often does, Manoah delivered with yet another stellar performance against the woeful Pirates as the Jays got a three-city, 10-game trip started with a 4-0 win.
“It meant a lot,” to pitch at PNC Park. “Pre-game I’m in the outfield doing my warmups and kind of got emotional thinking two years back sitting in the dugout and we were playing Pitt and I was like, ‘Man I want to be in the big leagues.’ Fast forward and now I’m here doing it.
“Pitching here in front of a lot of my friends, family, teammates, coaches … it meant a lot.”
Manoah’s presence clearly means ‘a lot’ to the Jays as well, the type of larger-than-life individual who could be a huge emotional leader for the team down the stretch. He’s fiery on the mound, full of energy in the dugout and a beloved teammate for his work ethic.
“He’s a tremendous competitor,” manager John Schneider said. “He’s up for any challenge. He doesn’t back down from any situation and I think it rubs off on his teammates. For a guy in his first full season, he continues to get better, which is awesome.”
The Jays all-star right-hander is on an ace-like run for his team right now, allowing just two earned runs in his past three starts combined, a stretch of 20.1 innings.
And Manoah does it with his own workhorse flair, a competitive beast who won’t back down, much to the delight of the thousands of Jays fans who made the drive down here for Labour Day weekend.
It was a timely outing for the big man on a number of levels, given the Jays desire to get some sustained sizzle in September on the way to a playoff berth.
But a lengthy outing from Manoah, was ideal given the strains that await the pitching staff over the next few days.
Playing before a pro Jays crowd — that included his college coach, Randy Mazey and most of the West Virginia baseball team — Manoah was dealing from the outset as he improved his record to 13-7.
A four-pitch fifth inning kept his count down and with two innings through six he got the green light from Schneider to keep pitching — for a while, anyway.
He was at 91 pitches through seven but after allowing a one-out single to Tyler Heineman in the eighth, his night was done. Manoah protested in vain as Schneider strode to the mound, but instead exited to a huge applause.
“He did more than we asked of him tonight, which he always does,” Schneider said.
Given the struggles on offence, the Jays needed that kind of effort from Manoah. They scored a pair of runs on a Santiago Espinal double in the fourth inning and added some long-awaited insurance on a two-run homer from Bo Bichette in the ninth.
With the Orioles, Mariners and Rays all winning, it was important for the Jays to match. And they’ll need more of the same from Manoah the deeper they go into September.
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The Jays needed that type of effort from Manoah given the latest offensive struggles. They loaded the bases in each of the fifth and eighth innings and couldn’t get a run across … In the fifth, Bichette flew out to left field and in the eighth, Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out and Springer flew out to left field … In total, the Jays left 11 runners stranded on the night, a troubling trend with the run-shy team of late … Lefty Tim Mayza, on in relief of Manoah, did his job touching 95 mph with his fastball and getting a pair of strikeouts to keep the futile Pirates at bay.
LINE ’EM UP
With two doubleheaders coming up plus a desire to mix and match starters against stouter division opponents, Schneider and pitching coach Pete Walker are ready to juggle the rotation.
But with Manoah going deep on Friday, that allows the team to consider an “opener” for Saturday’s middle game of the series while pushing back the rest of the rotation.
With that in mind, Ross Stripling will get the call on Sunday setting up the tandem of Jose Berrios and Kevin Gausman for Monday’s doubleheader in Baltimore.
AROUND THE BASES
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has been battling a sore left wrist, was kept out of the Jays lineup on Friday … The return of reliever Julian Merryweather seems imminent given the right hander has joined the team here and for now, anyway, is on the taxi squad.
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