Big-time debut: Alek Manoah to start for Blue Jays vs Yanks

FILE - In this March 14, 2021, file photo, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah throws to a New York Yankees batter during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Dunedin, Fla. Manoah, a 23-year-old prospect, is being called up by the Blue Jays to make his major league debut against the New York Yankees on Wednesday night, May 26. (Steve Nesius/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Alek Manoah was surprised when Casey Candaele walked up to him Monday.

“Hey man, can we get like a coffee or a bite to eat or something?” asked the former big leaguer and current manager of Toronto’s Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.

“I’ve never gotten lunch with him, so I was kind of a little confused,” the 23-year-old pitching prospect said.

When they sat down, Candaele asked: “What happened on the bus yesterday?”

“I slept the whole bus ride. So I was extremely confused,” Manoah recalled.

“You sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?” the manager said.

Manoah admitted: “I was kind of freaking out for a little bit.”

Then, only then, did Candaele let on.

“No, man, I’m just messing around,” he told him. “They want you to go pitch on Wednesday with the big team.”

Taken 11th overall in the 2019 amateur draft, Manoah is to make his major league debut on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, in front of New York fans more eager than ever to rattle opponents since they’ve been allowed to return this season.

He has pitched just 35 professional innings but feels assured he is ready.

“Obviously, the team has confidence in me to throw me into the fire and I’m ready to go, man,” said the 6-foot-6, 260-pound pitcher, who throws at up to 97 mph. “So as long as that mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches, we’ve got a shot.”

When he got back to his hotel room in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Monday night, he tried to FaceTime his mom, Susana.

“She didn’t answer, and I was kind of just like, man, that’s the most Manoah thing to do,” he said. “So I called her again and she didn’t answer. And I was like, well, can I skip over to my brother or something like that?”

“But I wanted her to be the first to know,” he went on. “So I just kept calling and she was like, `Hey, I’m at work. Can I call you back? Is everything all right?′ And I kind of had some couple tears in my eyes. So she was like, `Are you all right?′ And then I was like: We’re going. And she was like, `Oh, my God, forget my work.’”

Bypassed in the 2016 amateur draft after he finished South Dade High School in Homestead, Florida, Manoah went to college at West Virginia. He improved his control, improved his breaking ball and gained attention.

Toronto drafted him 11th overall in 2019, then signed him for a $4.55 million bonus.

He had a 2.65 ERA that summer for Class A Vancouver, then missed last year due to the pandemic. He was at Toronto’s alternate training site, came down with COVID-19 and missed more than three weeks

Manoah flourished in spring training this year, allowing one hit during seven scoreless innings in three appearances, including five innings of one-hit ball in two games against the Yankees.

“I saw the confidence. He’s a confident kid, and that should help him out a lot in the big leagues," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Then Manoah went 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA this month for Triple-A Buffalo, striking out 27 and walking three in 18 innings.

He was looking forward the surroundings of his big league debut. He remembered what Rogers Centre was like when he visited and anticipated the comfy clubhouse of a big league clubhouse at Yankee Stadium.

“The kitchen was amazing,” he said. “I heard the Yankees got a great spread. I’m looking forward to that.”

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