ST. PETERSBURG — At 6 feet 6 and 285 pounds, pitcher Alek Manoah is a mountain of a man and king of the Blue Jays’ hill.
The 24-year-old right-hander has pretty much owned the American League East, including the Rays.
To make matters worse for Tampa Bay, its hottest hitter, Manuel Margot, was placed on the 10-day injured list before Sunday’s game with a right hamstring strain.
Manoah entered the day 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA, and the Rays didn’t do much to put a dent into the baseball or those gaudy numbers through five innings.
But sometimes the best way to knock down a giant such as Manoah is to chip away at him.
Tampa Bay did exactly that, scoring three runs in the sixth on three singles, a fielder’s choice, an error and a wild pitch. The result was a 3-0 victory to take two or three from Toronto and win the weekend series before 20,986 Sunday at Tropicana Field.
“Manoah is really good, and he came as advertised,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Very tough to square up. He mixes that fastball with a slider. He even threw a couple changeups today to keep us at bay. The good thing was we finally did get to him and put some pressure on him, put some pressure on the defense, but our pitching was right there to match kind of what he was doing, which was really encouraging.”
In four starts against the Rays last season, Manoah had a 1.46 ERA and struck out 10 on two occasions. The No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 draft breezed through the first five innings Sunday, allowing only one batter to reach second; Vidal Brujan was stranded after a one-out double in the fifth.
But it all unraveled for Manoah in the sixth, even though only one of the three runs was earned.
Brandon Lowe singled with one out, and Wander Franco followed with a single to left, breaking his 0-for-18 slump.
That’s when Jays third baseman Matt Chapman, a three-time Gold Glove winner, threw wildly to second on a chopper by Harold Ramirez, scoring Lowe and putting runners on second and third. A wild pitch scored Franco, and Ramirez came home on a broken-bat single by Ji-Man Choi. Like Franco, Choi had gone hitless in his previous 18 at-bats.
“It feels good. Nobody wants to go that long without getting a hit, but it feels good to get it,” said Franco, via interpreter Manny Navarro, of breaking his slump. “I tried to keep things normal. It’s part of the game. You struggle a little bit, but I just tried to stay the same.’'
Five Rays pitchers managed to shut down the potent Jays lineup.
Jeffrey Springs matched Manoah through 4⅔ innings until he yielded a two-out double to left by Alejandro Kirk. Springs was lifted for Matt Wisler, who got Raimel Tapia to pop out to Choi at first and end the inning.
Springs’ line was impressive. The 29-year-old lefty scattered four hits, struck out two and had no walks in only his third start since being moved from the bullpen and into the rotation.
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“Every little kid dreams of being a big-league starter, and if they’re going to give me the opportunity, I’m going to do it as long as I can,” Springs said.
“(Manoah) is a good pitcher. We knew that coming in. He’s going to go out there and throw the ball pretty well. Like I said, they’re a good team all around. So yeah, I loved the competition from that aspect. Me versus him, so to speak, definitely ... you want to bring you’re A game.”
The pitching staff didn’t need much run support. After Springs left with two outs in the fifth, Matt Wisler, J.P. Feyereisen, Colin Poche and Andrew Kittredge combined for 4⅓ innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts and one walk.
The Rays (21-14) entered the game having lost four of their previous six. They had scored one run or fewer in three of those during the 2-4 stretch. But in typical Rays fashion, they were able to grind out a shutout win.
“Look, ‘grind’ is a good word,” Cash said. “We certainly didn’t just hit (Manoah). He’s been awesome for them. We got enough pressure, and it came at the right time. I think that’s ideally what happened. Had the right guys up there, moved the ball a little bit but again, (Manoah) pitched a heck of a game.”
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