June 21st, 2024

Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah soaking up all the info he can at spring training

By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press on February 19, 2023.

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah, right, warms up during baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Thursday, February 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah is not resting on his laurels after an all-star season last year.

The 25-year-old staff ace is like a sponge at the team’s player development complex, regularly watching other pitchers’ throwing sessions and interacting with teammates and coaches to gather as much info as he can.

“I’m a huge fan of the game,” he said. “I love to learn and see what guys are working on.”

He has also become fast friends with new teammate Chris Bassitt, who signed a three-year deal with Toronto in the off-season.

Manoah has been picking the brain of the veteran starter and they’ve been regular throwing partners on the practice fields. The big right-hander also took in Kevin Gausman’s throwing session Sunday and they got a chance to bounce ideas off each other.

“The guys look really good,” Manoah said. “Some guys are adding some pitches and some guys are tweaking their deliveries a little bit. For me personally, I love to watch their side (sessions).”

Bassitt, 34, has been one of the more reliable starters in the game over his eight big-league seasons. He has a 46-34 career mark, a 3.45 earned-run average and is known for keeping opposing hitters off-balance.

“He throws like 40 (different) pitches,” Manoah joked. “Being able to just see the release points and how he uses his body, some of the mental cues that he uses, they can help me in many different ways.

“I’m super blessed to be able to throw with him, train with him and be his teammate.”

Bassitt went 15-9 last season with a 3.42 ERA for the New York Mets. He joins a rotation that includes Jose Berrios but does not yet have a finalized fifth starter.

Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White are considered favourites to land the role this spring. It’s possible that Hyun Jin Ryu, who’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery last June, could return later in the season.

Manoah, meanwhile, finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2022 after going 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA and 180 strikeouts.

“Confidence is never an issue with him, we all know that,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “But I think (he’s) just being a little bit more well-versed in his routines. He’s speaking up a little bit more and taking a little bit more of a leadership role, which is great.

“He’s a big part of what we do.”

Manoah was 9-2 over 20 starts in his rookie season and showed last year that it was no fluke. He said he’s working on a couple things in his pitch repertoire but wouldn’t tip his hand when asked Sunday.

He also said improving his defensive skill set is a priority during camp.

“I think just some of the really small things over the span of a major-league season can add up,” he said. “That gets magnified in the playoffs.”

In other news Sunday, Schneider said there was no update on when catcher Alejandro Kirk might join the team at camp. Kirk’s fiancĂ©e is due to give birth any day.

The skipper also said it will be up to the players to decide if the team’s blue home run jacket returns this year. It was worn in the dugout the last two seasons after a player went yard.

“Home runs are great and I think you celebrate those,” Schneider said. “But I also think the overall message, whether it’s putting a jacket on or doing something in the dugout, is we want to celebrate more than just home runs.

“We want to focus on catching the ball and we want to focus on getting on base and things like that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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