Big Right-Hander Earns The Saturday Start In Opening Series
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Alek Manoah will be in the rotation with plenty to showcase and prove when West Virginia opens its three-game series at Jacksonville starting today.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander started 10 games a season ago, going 1-1 with two saves after settling in in the latter part of his freshman season. Manoah trimmed his 260-pound frame during the offseason in a bid to better his fitness and pitch deeper into games.
“Extending my outings, throwing a lot of strikes early in the game and getting ahead in counts,” said Manoah, a native of Miami who was WVU’s first top 40 recruit under head coach Randy Mazey. “Save the bullpen for midweeks or later games. I feel a lot better body-wise, arm-wise, mentally. My mechanics, it’s about making them more consistent throughout the time and the game, the season, The better shape my body is in the longer I can last in the game, and it helps me get into the right position mechanical-wise to be able to go longer.”
Manoah is a power righty with excellent strength and push off the mound. He’ll draw the Saturday start against Jacksonville, behind veteran BJ Myers and ahead of a yet-to-be-determined Sunday starter. Manoah will face the Dolphins’ Tyler Santana (4-2, 2.61) in a match-up of sophomores.
Manoah’s issue last season was control after issuing a team-high 33 walks against 45 strikeouts. Manoah also displayed a fearlessness to pitched inside, and as a result hit 17 batters, 10 more than any other Mountaineer. But that aggressiveness also served him well, the newcomer not showcasing nerves or being afraid to challenge the middle of the order against any foe. It’s a risk-reward situation, and Manoah hopes to tilt more of those to his side with a better handle on his pitches this season.
“Last year my two-seamer, it just ran a lot,” he said. “My cutter, things like that. Now I am controlling it; I know how much it’s going to run. Tried to use my experience from last year and mix that in knowing when to throw pitches and when not to. Last year I made a few mistakes that were costly and I’m trying not to do it this year.”
The other struggle was being able to mentally bounce back from the outings in which he was hit hard. Manoah is a heavy strikout hurler, but also gave up a dozen doubles on the way to a 3.07 ERA in 19 appearances over 55 2/3 innings.
“I didn’t get roughed up a lot, but the games that I did I would mentally get down on myself,” Manoah said. “Games where maturity-wise I had to leave them in the past and continue to get better. That’s something I feel I have done, continue to breathe through my outings and evolve my routine so that when a situation does come where runners are on base or other big situations, I can continue to pitch my game.”
Manoah was named to the All-Big 12 freshman team. He started the season as a reliever, then transitioned to closer before moving to starter and going from WVU’s fifth starter up to second in a span of five starts in less than four weeks. The coaching staff’s confidence in Manoah, and others, has given the pitching staff more freedom in pitch choice and selection, an aspect which will play out against a Jacksonville team which posted a 37-24 mark a season ago and finished 16-5 in the Atlantic Sun Conference to win its first league title in more than a decade.
“The coaches tell us that whatever they call is a preference and as a pitcher (I can shake off),” Manoah said. “If I am going in and it’s a 1-2 count and I think a fastball up will work, I am already thinking about that a pitch or two pitches ago. They are not thinking the same thing, so they wouldn’t want me to throw a pitch that was not what I originally planned to throw.
“There are times we will get a call from the dugout and (catcher Ivan Gonzalez) already knows I am shaking it off. He already knows what I want next. Me and him work pretty well together.”
First pitch Friday is set for 6 p.m. eastern at John Sessions Stadium. The series continues Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m., with the finale on Sunday at noon.