WVU’s Manoah Had Unusual Prep For Saturday’s NCAA Regional
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Under normal circumstances, Alek Manoah goes to bed the night before a game thinking about how he would like to pitch each batter he is scheduled to face the next day.
That did not happen on Friday night.
It could not happen because these are no longer normal circumstances. This is NCAA Tournament baseball and there is nothing normal about that, especially for West Virginia at this time of year.
To begin with, Manoah would be pitching in familiar circumstance, on his home mound, WVU hosting a regional for the first time since 1955.
That’s the good news.
The bad news, and what makes this first attempt for him to win his 10th game of the season so abnormal, is that it wasn’t much before he pulled the covers over himself that he learned the opposing team.
In fact, the only thing he was sure of was that it would be a team he had never faced before and against batters he had never faced, either.
He really didn’t learn anything by the outcome of the first game, for who West Virginia would face depended upon whether it beat Fordham in the 8 p.m. game.
Now it’s generally considered true that it’s harder on the hitter than it is on the pitcher to be unfamiliar with the opponent … but it really can’t make much of difference for if a hitter doesn’t know the timing, delivery angle, the speed and control of a pitcher, the pitcher doesn’t know the weakness of the hitters he will face.
Yet that’s just where it will be when the Mountaineers’ finalist for National Pitcher of the Year takes the mound.
Manoah, a 6-foot-6 right-hander out of Miami, downplays the significance of the situation.
“The coaches study most of the hitters, and they have to know where to position the defense — and obviously Mazey calls the pitches. So, he does a lot of the studying,” Manoah said.
“I just like to take a look at the hitters and put a name to the face and get an idea of what I want to do before I get out there. I don’t like to overthink things, just put a name to the face and get an idea of how I’m going to pitch to them before I get out there.”
It’s far easier not to overthink things when you throw at 97 miles an hour, as a fastball normally is what every scouting report is built around.
“The fastball is the best pitch in baseball. It’s like having five pitches, if you move it around,” Hall of Fame right-hander Luis Tiant observed.
And when you can throw that fastball where you want — Manoah has walked only 23 batters in 102.1 innings — and can back it up with a nasty slider and deceptive changeup, you can feel even more confident.
What helps, too, is the ability to throw inside. Owning the inside part of the plate is crucial.
It was the great Sandy Koufax, who put it best when he said “Show me a guy who can’t pitch inside and I’ll show you a loser.”
That Mazey calls the pitches eases much for Manoah in a situation like this, but why does the coach in the dugout feel he should call the pitches better than the pitcher or catcher?
Actually, he does it more for himself than the pitcher.
“I’m used to doing everything,” Mazey explained. “It’s really affected me not to be able to coach third base, throw batting practice and hit fungoes and stuff. Calling pitches is about the only way I can stay in the game these days.”
Of course, there are times when Mazey will call a pitch and Manoah wants to throw a different pitch. What then?
“I just shake my head,” Manoah said. “He tells us all the time in the fall on things like that, it’s just a suggestion. I do a lot of homework on my own, and I’m technically the person out there throwing the ball and I know what I want to throw.
“A lot of times, we’re on the same page and we kind of pitch the same way. So, whenever I shake down, he knows exactly what I want, so it’s never a hassle.”
So, how will Manoah handle this particular situation of facing a team doesn’t know in a tournament situation?
“I’ll wake up Saturday morning and not know who my opposition is and who is starting for them, but I’ve already done some studying and know both of those teams that I’m going to have to prepare for,” he said.
“I’ve talked to some guys who are in their league and that I know from summer ball. It’s actually pretty nice. I threw Thursday last week, and going into Saturday this week, the arm is going to be nice and rested and once I get some more information on who I’m playing, I’m just really excited to get out there.”