MANOAH THE MAN: Blue Jays starter strengthens as he approaches a full year in the major leagues

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If facial expressions are a clear window into a baseball player’s personality, what you see in Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah is often what you get.

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And how fun was it to watch a young pitcher storm into the big leagues with such authority?

At one point, it might be the oversized smile reaching the corners of Manoah’s face as he shares a dugout moment with his teammates.

In another, the burly right-hander could be seen chirping or eyeing an opponent from the mound, a glimpse of the extreme competitiveness that has helped define 24-year-old Manoah a year into his big league career.

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Yes, how long has it been. Already.

When Manoah receives the ball for his next start against the Angels in Anaheim on Friday, it will be 12 months to the day since the big man made his major league debut.

What a whirlwind it has been as the Florida native has established himself as one of the game’s elite young starters and a formidable force in the Jays’ strong rotation.

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“I’m super blessed,” Manoah said in an interview in St. Louis after doing his prep work for Friday’s departure to California. “A lot of things had to go right for me to end up where I was last year and be able to have the season that I did and help the team do some really good things.

“I still feel like a rookie and I think that’s just the mentality I have. I never want to take this game for granted. That’s why the fire is so lit. Life is not promised .

“In my head, I want to be that guy who’s constantly learning.”

The competitive team is never far from the box with the 6-foot-6, 285-pound right-hander and we may have seen him deeper in his previous start.

Manoah was pushing in that one, going for a full eight and a modest 83 pitch count. When he arrived at the Rogers Center dugout, however, manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker were waiting to congratulate him on a Jays outing. 2019 the first-round pick had no intention of ending.

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Manoah wanted a complete game and he really did, and the reaction was as powerful as his fastball.

“I wasn’t angry. I was just surprised… like no, no way that would happen,” Manoah said, explaining the scene captured by TV cameras in the dugout. “It’s just the fire in me. I was extremely grateful to George (Springer), Vlad (Guerrero), (Teoscar Hernandez) and those guys for supporting me.

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“They said, ‘It’s just you as a competitor. We know inside that you’re not a selfish guy – you did your job and we know you want to go out there. We know it’s the fire you play with and don’t change it.

“George grabbed me and said ‘hey, stay here. You’re good. We’re going to win this game. And that was great.

Tailor this reaction given the importance Manoah places on being a good teammate, a value instilled in him as a young player better than most of his peers.

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“It means a lot to me to be a good teammate,” said Manoah, who is currently the seventh 11-1 pick in American League Cy Young Award futures betting. “When I was growing up, I was always the (cleanup) hitter, the team guy that the guys relied on.

“But my parents always taught me to be humble and to be a team guy. Because you’re better than some others, you might be able to pull it off, but why? Why not be the guy the others want to be around?” This attitude has been instilled in me since I was a child.

“I would go 3v3 and we would lose a game and I was trained not to be happy because we lost. You can’t do it yourself in this game. It’s too hard. It’s so important to me to find out how you can get the most out of the guys around you and learn from them I’m invested in the other guys on this team.

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Presence in the dugout was one thing, but Manoah’s larger-than-life performance on the mound was even more impressive. He’ll go 5-1 at Angel Stadium after that impressive performance in Toronto, where he lowered his ERA to 1.62, the third-lowest in the majors.

However, the powerful right-hander doesn’t take a big head about his success. He’s essentially the same guy we first met in Vancouver with the Canadiens a few months after the Jays made him the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft – and he’s a player determined to be the best .

“I feel like I’m still learning a lot and adjusting,” Manoah said. “To be honest, I had no clear idea a year ago how good I would be right now, but I feel like I’ll be much better (in the future.)

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“In terms of mentality and approach, I feel much stronger. I go out there and attack the batters, but I feel like the plan has improved and the in-game adjustments have improved.

With an attitude that matches the arm, Manoah thinks he’s only scratching the surface of his potential. He works hard to make it happen, although there are still times when it all seems unreal.

“It was a huge blessing, what I was able to do last year,” Manoah said. “I still have to pinch myself most of the time, but it’s super encouraging and super exciting with what I’ve been able to do so far in my career.”

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