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Santana's three-run homer lifts Twins over Jays in Manoah's best start of the year

Carlos Santana Minnesota Twins Carlos Santana - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Alek Manoah never lost faith in himself, even as he struggled to find the strike zone through 2023 and started this season on the injured list.

The six-foot-six right-hander had his best start of the season, allowing three runs — all unearned — over seven innings as his Toronto Blue Jays fell to the Minnesota Twins 5-1 on Sunday. Manoah gave up four hits and a walk but struck out six as his earned-run average dropped from 13.50 to 4.91.

"There's a lot of outside noise but I worked my tail off every day and I got a great support from all the guys in the clubhouse," said Manoah. "I know they believe in me so it was just about going out there and doing it."

It was Manoah's second start for the Blue Jays after he began the year on the IL with shoulder soreness. He earned an 0-2 record with an 8.69 ERA over five rehab starts for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, striking out 28 over 19 2/3 innings, before getting called up to Toronto to start May.

In Manoah's first MLB game of this season, he allowed seven runs, six earned, on six hits and four walks but struck out six over four innings on May 5 as Toronto lost to the Washington Nationals 11-0. He threw only one change-up in that game, a strategy he knew he had to change against the Twins.

Manoah threw a four-seam fastball for 39.7 per cent of his 78 pitches on Sunday but mixed in his change-up 24.4 per cent of the time. He used his sinker and slider each for 17.9 per cent of his pitches.

"I feel like my slider is the best it's ever been right now and I feel like (the Twins) were game-planning for that, especially with me only throwing one change-up last week," said Manoah. "So the idea was let's see if we can throw (the change-up) at 'em hard and it just kept working for us."

Pinch-hitter Danny Jansen's sacrifice fly in the seventh was the only run Toronto (18-22) could score. It was the first game of the season played with the roof open at Rogers Centre.

Relievers Erik Swanson and Nate Pearson came out of the Blue Jays' bullpen.

Carlos Santana's three-run homer in the seventh inning broke open a scoreless tie as Minnesota (24-16) won for the 17th time in its last 20 games. Max Kepler added a two-run double in the eighth.

Bailey Ober (4-1) pitched one-hit ball over 6 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10. Cole Sands, Kody Funderbunk and Jhoan Duran came on in relief for the Twins.

"I think everyone is just taking it day by day and excited to show up and go out there and play," said Ober of the hot streak. "Guys are starting to really believe in each other and the whole team in general that we can show up and win every single day."

Manoah gave up just two hits through the first 6 1/3 innings when Kepler reached based on Ernie Clement's fielding error at third base. Willi Castro then singled, moving Kepler to second. Alex Kirilloff hit into a fielder's choice, with Castro getting forced out at second.

That brought Santana to the plate with two out and two on.

He smashed an 86.9 m.p.h. change-up to right-centre field for his seventh home run of the season and a 3-0 Minnesota lead — although all three runs were unearned. Manoah only threw breaking balls to Santana in the at bat, with a slider and a change-up missing the zone before Santana's homer.

"(Santana's) done some damage against us, for sure," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. "I'd like to see him get the hell out of here."

Toronto cut into that lead in the bottom of the inning when Jansen, pinch-hitting for Daniel Vogelbach, hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to score Vladimir Guerrero Jr. That made it 3-1 for the Twins.

Kepler doubled off Swanson in the eighth to plate Carlos Correa and Quebec City's Edouard Julien.

ON DECK — Jose Berríos (4-3) gets the start as the Blue Jays begin a three-game series in Baltimore on Monday.

Corbin Burnes (3-2) is scheduled for the American League East-leading Orioles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2024.