MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There was quiet as Charlie Montoyo made his march from the
dugout in Rogers Centre in Toronto, where he resides as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, moving closer and closer to the giant of a man who stood upon the pitcher’s mound.
At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, certainly Alek Manoah, the one-time West Virginia University righthanded pitcher, is an intimidating figure to batters. Even a manager going out there to take the baseball from him to end his 30th major league game has to be impressed with the physical presence. But that’s why Montoyo makes the big bucks, for decisions just like this one, for he was far more concerned with the eight-game winning streak his team was in the midst of than with the first major league complete game that Manoah is striving to add to his resume.
He wasn’t mad, mind you, something he well might have been back in his early days at WVU when he had not only to learn to control his pitches but his temper. This time, as Rachel Brady of the Toronto Globe and Mail described it, he even made a little joke with the manager as he handed him the ball.
As he began his walk back to toward the dugout, the crowd exploded in applause, all of them on their feet, for Manoah has become a local hero and even a national hero as he has exploded on the baseball scene.
But he has become something even larger than that, for he is off to one of the greatest starts in major league history, something we will explore momentarily and offer statistical proof of the same.
At that moment, though, the crowd was only thinking of what he had done again, and enjoyed his work just as he enjoyed their admiration, applauding them back by clapping his bare right hand into his glove and smiling.
In this latest game, which would wind up giving him his sixth victory in seven decisions this year and his 15th in 18 decisions in the big leagues, leaving Toronto with a 23-7 record in his 30 starts over the slightly more than a year he had been with them, he had pitched into the eighth, allowed three earned runs on six hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
More to the point, he stretched his home record since coming to the big leagues to 9-0 with a 2.12 ERA. His Moby Dick is becoming that complete game, as he noted in post-game interviews, but it isn’t consuming him.
“It will come,” he said. “I think it would be pretty awesome, especially since you don’t see many of them nowadays. It’s something I pride myself on, just going out here and being a horse and eating up innings.”
Baseball hasn’t seen anything much like Manoah’s first year, as noted, especially among power pitchers.
Most power pitchers take a while to mature before they reach their prime. It isn’t an aging process like fine wine, which when right gives you a certain glow. It’s more like bourbon, which has an edge to it, a taste which takes you to a place where you rule your own world.
Manoah came to the major leagues with it as few, if any other power pitchers have.
“He’s got the mindset — it’s off the charts,” Montoyo said after the White Sox game, remembering Manoah’s arrival when he proclaimed, “I’m ready, man.”
That doesn’t surprise his WVU coach Randy Mazey.
“When Manoah got to us, he would have been drafted out of high school, but there were teams that didn’t want to take him up high. He basically told them, they were making a huge mistake and he was going to come back and beat them,” Mazey recalled.
“When a kid says that to a pro team out of high school, you don’t have much work to do on his attitude. He had the confidence, the desire and the chip on his shoulder to prove people wrong before he ever got here.”
The most notable example of how a power pitcher can struggle early in his career yet reach greatness came from Sandy Koufax, signed as a bonus baby out of Brooklyn and the University of Cincinnati. He was a raw talent who belonged in the minor leagues but the rules at the time required you to stay with the major league club if you received a large bonus. And so he struggled mightily with his control, but once he mastered that he exploded into probably the greatest left-hander over a five-year span in history.
It isn’t unusual. Power pitchers have to learn control, as they need to pick up a pitch other than a fastball, something that’s difficult, because until they faced major league hitters, they didn’t need that pitch.
Oddly, Manoah got that part of it out of the way while at WVU. His freshman year, like so many power pitchers who come into a Power 5 league, was wrought with adversity, Mazey recalled, noting that his first game was in a closing role at Charlotte and it didn’t go great.
“He went back and forth between a starter and reliever. He threw some good games and showed flashes of brilliance but he just needed to put it all together,” Mazey said. “Like a lot of kids when they go to college, they get wrapped up in college life. I think college life distracted him a little. The summer before his junior year he went to the Cape Cod League and I think that’s where he got back on track.”
The problem was a common one for young college pitchers.
“When you are pitching college ball in season, your job is to win the game so you go with the pitches that work for you but in the off-season, you work on the pitches that don’t work for you,” Mazey said. “He got to work with big leaguers to tune up his pitches. It took him a couple of years but once he got to point where he was concentrating on the big leagues it all fell together.”
He wound up the 11th pick of the first round, pitched only nine minor games and unlike the Koufaxes and Ryans and Seavers, he was ready to go.
We compiled a chart of great power pitchers over their first 30 major league games and, believe it or not, Manoah may have the best resume of all of them.
Here is how Manoah stacks up against some of history’s greatest power pitchers through their first 30 major league games:
W-L ERA IP H ER W-K
Alek Manoah 15-3 2.77 175.1 125 54 50-184
Tom Seaver 12-12 2.88 209.2 195 67 63-135
Steve Carlton 5-4 2.94 104 111 34 34-72
Nolan Ryan 6-10 3.20 157.2 113 56 75-133
Bob Feller 9-8 3.24 150 117 54 116-161
Jim Palmer 7-4 3.90 110.2 89 48 69-91
Roger Clemens 14-8 4.05 200 199 90 53-156
Bob Gibson 6-9 4.05 140 153 63 73-105
Sandy Koufax 4-6 4.11 107.1 108 49 48-68
Randy Johnson 9-11 4.56 165.2 150 84 98-131
Please note, his ERA is best, only Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, being below 3.00. His record of 15-3 towers over the rest of the rest of the group with Roger Clemens only close at 14-8 while Bob Gibson (6-9), Koufax (4-6) and Randy Johnson (9-11) were sub-.500 pitchers in their first 30 outings.
Manoah’s 184 strikeouts are more than even Bob Feller, but Feller was fighting control as he walked 116 batters in 150 innings while Manoah walked only 50 in 175.1 innings.
And Manoah’s 184 strikeouts are 25 more than Nolan Ryan recorded in his first 30 games, but Ryan pitched 18 more innings.
Manoah is a different pitcher in Toronto than he was when he left Morgantown.
“I watched him pitch, he was pitching at 91 and 93. For us, he was throwing 96 and 98 … but now he’s a power pitcher who knows how to pitch,” Mazey said. “If you ever get a guy who can pitch, who can execute our pitching philosophy, he can win at a lot of levels, but if you can do it with power you can win at the big-league level.
“That’s what he’s doing, he’s pitching with power pitches.”