Blue Jays hang on to beat Phillies as Manoah-mania continues to build

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General manager Ross Atkins was back in Dunedin with the big-league team on Sunday, watching his Blue Jays bash around, then almost blow an 8-0 lead against the Philadelphia Phillies at TD Ballpark.

It certainly wasn’t pretty as the bullpen had a near meltdown, showing further signs of the wear and tear its members have already endured 39 games into the season.

But at least there was a visit to baseball’s backwaters in Trenton, N.J., four days earlier that impressed the GM and as a result escalated the hype surrounding 2019 first-round pick, Alek Manoah.

Atkins wanted to see Manoah in action at the temporary home of the triple-A Buffalo Bisons and see if his eyes matched the glowing scouting reports of the impressive pitching prospect.

In fact, it seems to have reached the point where Atkins has abandoned the front-office company line of slamming the brakes on a possible promotion and is willing to acknowledge that the hard-throwing big man’s time is nearing.

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“(Manoah’s performance) is exceptionally encouraging for us and as it relates to the timing and how we’re making that decision, obviously his effectiveness is a huge piece of that equation,” Atkins said on a Zoom call on Sunday prior to the 10-8 win over the Phillies. “The objective and subjective views of how effective he will be at the major-league level are all really encouraging.”

Despite some ongoing concerns with the bullpen, the Jays continue to make progress on the field as Sunday’s win improves their record to 22-17, the first time they have been five games over .500 this season.

But how encouraging has Manoah been? Certainly enough to envision him as part of the big team before long. In 12 innings over his two triple-A starts, Manoah has given up just three hits, hasn’t allowed a run and has struck out a whopping 17 batters.

The 23-year-old right-hander will make his next start on Tuesday at Polar Park in Worcester, Me., facing the Red Sox. While promotion isn’t necessarily imminent, a couple of more starts resembling the first two and it may not be far off.

In fact, it’s now not out of the question that Manoah could be a regular part of the Jays’ rotation before Bisons teammate Nate Pearson. Atkins indicated on Sunday that Pearson could be headed for “extended starts in triple A” as the team looks to build back his confidence and command.

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GAME ON

The Jays needed most of that early lead, a barrage started by taking advantage of Phillies starter Chase Anderson, much as opponents did to him in 2020 when he was in the Toronto rotation. Anderson lasted just 1.1 innings and gave up eight hits and seven earned runs … Among the early Jays carnage: Marcus Semien and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back home runs to lead off the game … Semien had three extra-base hits in three innings, adding doubles in the second and third … The big bomb of the afternoon was a solo homer from Vlad Guerrero Jr. in the eighth, a monster shot that gave him homers in three consecutive games for the first time in his career and a team-leading 11 on the season … The Jays got 5.2 innings out of starter Robbie Ray, who needed 112 pitches to get there but struck out nine along the way … There appeared to be some concern surrounding late-inning specialist Jordan Romano, who threw 21 pitches after facing just four batters before exiting with two out in the ninth. Manager Charlie Montoyo said the team was just being cautious after Romano threw 18 pitches the previous night … Montoyo on the near collapse? “A win is a win. Believe me, I’ve seen so many games where the other team comes back to win it.” … With that in mind, the Jays will enjoy Monday’s off-day to recover from three achingly long games that all topped the three-hour mark, including Sunday’s series finale that took a tedious 3:45 to finish.

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Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah delivers against the New York Yankees during the first inning at TD Ballpark on March 14, 2021. KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS
Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah delivers against the New York Yankees during the first inning at TD Ballpark on March 14, 2021. KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS

HOME NOT SO SWEET

After his three-hit day, Jays second baseman Semien said what we suspect a lot of his teammates have been thinking: They can’t get away from Dunedin soon enough, even with their 9-5 record at TD Ballpark

Whether it’s the blinding sun early in night games or the wind wreaking havoc on fly balls as it was Sunday, or no real home fan support, Semien said it doesn’t feel like home.

“I’ve enjoyed being on the road this year, just being in big-league ball parks,” he said on Sunday. “Personally, I don’t think playing here is a relief. It’s not ideal for big-league ball games but that’s what we have to deal with. It’s definitely something a lot of guys haven’t seen at this level.”

The Jays have just seven games remaining at their spring training home before returning to Buffalo’s Sahlen Field on June 1.

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EXTRA BASES

Next candidate for the injury list? Could be Rowdy Tellez who slipped awkwardly in his last at-bat and suffered what the team is calling a mild hamstring strain … Some potentially good news on the injury front: Thomas Hatch, who was so impressive in the spring, is up to three innings of work now as he recovers from an elbow injury. Hatch will continue building up with the Bisons setting up a return to the Jays rotation, possibly by the end of the month … Late-inning man Rafael Dolis (calf) could be back in the lineup for Tuesday’s opener of a three-game series against the Red Sox.

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