Blue Jays Alek Manoah motivated for likely start in playoff opener


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BALTIMORE — When Alek Manoah woke up Tuesday morning with the knowledge he’d be starting a playoff game in Toronto this week, he began his preparations.

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It was too early to throw or work out — that would come later in the day. So instead, the Blue Jays ace watched some rather Toronto-specific motivational videos.

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“I’ve been watching (Edwin) Encarnacion’s walk-off home run on repeat a good amount,” Manoah told the Toronto Sun moments before Tuesday’s game here was rained out. “It’s going to be pretty exciting. It’s going to be pretty electric.”

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The Encarnacion walk off homer against the Orioles in the 2016 American League wild-card game took place at the Rogers Centre, of course, and instantly became an iconic moment in franchise history. And it is an atmosphere that Manoah and his teammates can’t wait to savour.

In his young major league career, Manoah has already shown his affinity for the biggest of moments. That he is almost certain to get the ball in the opener of the best-of-three series at the Rogers Centre this Friday is a huge step for the big right hander.

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“It’s pretty gig for the country, pretty big for everyone in here to be playing at home,” Manoah said. “It’s especially so because there wasn’t any baseball in Toronto for almost two years.

“I think now to be able to be back home, not only after a good season but for playoff baseball in Toronto, it’s going to be amazing.

“I think everyone’s going to be excited. I’m going to be excited to take the mound. Hopefully it’s a first step to the goal we are trying to achieve.”

Jays manager John Schneider has yet to reveal his pitching plans for the Seattle Mariners, but it’s becoming all but academic now. Manoah told me he plans to throw a bullpen session at Camden Yards on Wednesday which would set him up for that Friday assignment.

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“Just a bullpen session (on Wednesday) and that’s about it,” Manoah said when asked what work he needs to get in to be ready for his post-season debut. “I had a couple of extra days recovery, so getting the arm kind of moving and loose — I got some good throwing in (on Tuesday).

“Some long toss and a bullpen (on Wednesday) and ready to go.”

Manoah is certainly riding a high now after being named the American League pitcher of the month for September, after posting a 0.88 ERA in 41 innings of work. That 0.88 ERA is the lowest in a single month in team history.

The 2019 first-round pick of the Jays believes he’s at his physical best at the most opportune time.

“I’ve felt strong all year,” Manoah said. “I think it’s all the work over the years — that’s what we train to do. As the years have gone by, I was able to make adjustments where needed.

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“Now I’ve got some extra rest going into the post season. It’s definitely perfect timing.”

DOUBLE UP

To say the Jays were perplexed at the ridiculous decision to force a double-header with the Orioles on Wednesday would be a rather large understatement.

None were happy with the bizarre call by Major League Baseball to schedule the traditional double dip, with the opener scheduled for 12:35 p.m. With the game meaningless to both teams and the Jays opening their post-season on Friday, they’ll have to make the best of it.

How do they do it? Expect a fair number of innings logged by the likes of Mitch White (Tuesday’s scheduled starter), Yusei Kikuchi and a taxi squad call-up (Casey Lawrence, Matt Gage or Julian Merryweather.)

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For the record, the team announced late Tuesday that starters for both games are TBA.

PARTY TIME?

With bigger goals in mind, the Jays opted not to formally celebrate securing the top seed in the AL wild-card race.

Which is not to say that the moment passed unnoticed.

“It was a very lively group chat last night when that Seattle game was over (in the wee hours of Tuesday morning),” Schneider said. “Obviously thrilled to be playing at home and we’ll definitely acknowledge it, but not to the extent we did last week.

“It’s quite an accomplishment coming from the ups and downs of the season and the streakiness we’ve displayed.

AROUND THE BASES

Among the more interesting roster calls the Jays will have to make for the playoffs is whether to activate Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (hamstring) from the injured list. “It will depend on how good he feels and whether it’s worth the risk to have him pinch hit,” Schneider said. “If he’s available as an outfielder, even better.” … The Jays won’t force the issue with Gurriel, however, especially given the viable outfield depth options in Cavan Biggio and Whit Merrifield … The Jays enter Wednesday’s double-header a season-high 22 games over .500, reaching that mark for the first time since the end of the 2015 season (93-69) … Speaking of 93 — if the Jays sweep Wednesday’s double header it would allow them to cash the over on season win totals (92.5 at bookmaker Bodog.) … MLB wouldn’t be insisting on squeezing in that extra game to cater to the explosion of legalized wagering, would it? Nah … Plenty or speculation on start times for the weekend, but those decisions won’t be made by MLB/ESPN until all the matchups are finalized.

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