June 14, 2019 5:41 pm

Manoah eager to start pro career with Jays

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Alek Manoah used to go to bed each night thinking about how it would feel to hear his name called at the MLB draft.

When he heard the Toronto Blue Jays pick him 11th overall nearly two weeks ago, the moment was just as he’d imagined it.

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“It’s like a recording that plays in your mind as a kid, that you constantly hear your name get called at the podium,” the right-handed pitcher said on a conference call Friday, a day after signing his first professional contract with the Blue Jays. “It’s something you hear when you go to bed, it’s something you visualize when you sleep, it’s really a dream.

“And just being there with my family on draft day … that recording started to play in my mind again. When the call went in I heard it and finally it was real. All those dreams and all those nights that I heard it as a kid came to reality and it sounded exactly how I thought it would sound.”

Manoah, a 21-year-old out of West Virginia University, was with his parents and Mountaineer teammates at head coach Randy Mazey’s home when he was selected by Toronto on June 3. West Virginia’s season had ended the day before with a loss to Texas A&M in a regional playoff game.

The defeat capped a solid junior season for Manoah, who was named the Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2019 after going 9-4 with a 2.08 earned-run average through 16 starts (108 1/3 innings) with 144 strikeouts and 27 walks.

Manoah, who spoke to reporters from Toronto’s spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla., hasn’t pitched since a June 2 loss to Duke.

Now that his contract has been signed, he’s itching to get back on the mound.

“Just really eager and excited to get going. The past week and a half has kinda been a little slow,” he said. “We signed the contract and I was able to get a workout this morning and see some guys throw and start up on my throwing plan as well.

“So yeah, the last week has been, a little bit obviously exciting, but boring at the same time not doing anything.”

Undrafted out of high school and used primarily as a reliever over his first two college seasons, the six-foot-six, 260-pound Manoah made a change to his delivery this year that helped keep the components of his large frame working together. It also helped facilitate his move to the rotation.

Gone is the wind-up motion he had used in the past. Now he works almost exclusively out of the stretch.

“I’m a pretty big kid and it’s not easy to get all these long limbs and body parts in sync at times,” said Manoah, who throws a fastball in the 94-97 m.p.h. range, according to MLB Pipeline, as well as a slider and change-up. “I had a wind up and I found myself having trouble doing that so I simplified it to just out of the stretch … and I found that I’m able to load my hips better. I’m able to keep my velocity from that position and I’m able to stay more consistent and more direct towards the plate.

“I know I’m big, I don’t try to confuse myself and try to be a little guy or one of these athletic pitchers. I know what works for me.”

The Miami native has spent the last week making friends with some of the Blue Jays other draft picks in Dunedin and watching the Toronto Raptors’ championship run, which culminated Thursday with their first NBA title in franchise history.

While Manoah has yet to visit Toronto — he still doesn’t have a passport — he said seeing Canadian fans reacting to the Raptors, and his experience with fellow pitcher Alex Nolan (an undrafted free agent from Brock University that signed with the Blue Jays on Wednesday) gives him confidence that he would enjoy playing in the city.

“Just the kind of fanbase that I see on social media and some of the articles and everything from the players that I’ve talked to this week, it’s just the best opportunity for me,” Manoah said. “There’s an entire country backing me up and the entire organization.

“And there’s nothing but nice people. … (Nolan) is from Canada and he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met so if Canadians are anything like him, I’m extremely excited to get over there and meet some of those people and play in front of them for a long time.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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