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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘It was a whirlwind’: CdA’s Kyle Manzardo reflects on first weeks in the major leagues with Cleveland

By Stephen Hunt The Spokesman-Review

ARLINGTON, Texas – Kyle Manzardo’s first few weeks as a big leaguer have been a blur, but the former Washington State standout and current Cleveland Guardian is incredibly grateful for his first opportunity in the show.

“It was a whirlwind at first, but I’m starting to settle in. Just trying to help the team win games,” Manzardo said during a recent series in Texas. “It was a goal to make it here at some point. It happened earlier than I expected, which is great. Just grateful.”

On May 6, he debuted against Detroit in Cleveland with more than a dozen friends and family in the stands. That included his mother, Windy, a cardiac nurse at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene who is currently awaiting a heart transplant, and father, Paul, who coached Kyle and his brother at Coeur d’Alene’s Lake City High School.

“Both my parents were there for my debut and that whole first series. That was obviously great,” Manzardo said. “Nothing’s really changed (about her transplant status) for a while. She’s been feeling good, feeling healthy and I think she’s still just waiting.”

Cougar fans remember him well from his three seasons in Pullman. As a freshman in 2019, he led WSU with 31 RBI; as a junior, he hit .365 with 11 homers and 60 RBI, earning first-team All-America honors, the first Coug to do so since Aaron Sele in 1990 and the first WSU position player to earn such recognition since John Olerud in 1988.

Manzardo also became the first WSU player with 60 or more RBIs since Jim Murphy drove in 61 in 2008. His strong collegiate career led Tampa Bay to draft him in the second round of the 2021 draft. “I loved my time at Washington State. People say once a Coug always a Coug. That still rings true for me,” he said. “I’m really happy about my time there.

“It (playing at WSU) was huge. It was the only Power Five school that talked to me. I got a chance to play high-level college baseball and figure out how to do well there. My life has been I get somewhere and do my best, play as well as I can there, the next place, same thing.”

Wherever he’s played since being drafted, Manzardo has showed plenty of pop in his bat. In 2022, his first full professional season, he hit a combined 22 homers and drove in 81 runs between High Single-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery. Last season, he hit 11 homers with 38 RBI and an OPS of .738 with the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate in Durham before Tampa dealt him to Cleveland in a trade deadline deal that netted the Rays starting pitcher Aaron Civale.

The trade went down on July 31, 2023, a day this WSU product remembers well. “I was rehabbing a shoulder injury in Florida, got a call midday after I was done with all my work for the day,” he said. “They told me they needed starting pitching, they had some injuries, the Rays did, so I was going here (to Cleveland). I was happy about it.”

Manzardo was immediately assigned to Columbus, the Guardians’ Triple-A affiliate and in 21 games with the Clippers, he hit six home runs with 16 RBI. He also was selected to participate in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League and performed well there, hitting .272 with six homers, 19 RBI and a .905 OPS, setting the stage for his first spring training with his new club.

After a solid spring, he again landed in Columbus and in 29 games with the Clippers, was hitting .303 with nine homers, 20 RBI and a 1.017 OPS before he got the call every prospect is waiting for, that he was going to the show. “The adjustment when I went from Triple-A to here, it was crazy. You put different types of pressure on yourself,” Manzardo said. “I feel like I’ve settled down and just ready to go be myself.”

“There were probably 15 people or so (there for my first series). It was special. I couldn’t be happier about how all that shook out. The Guardians, they took great care of all my family, friends, and stuff. They really helped organize all of that. ”

With the Guardians, he’s playing for Stephen Vogt, a rookie big-league manager who was a two-time All-Star during his 11 seasons as a player. “He looks great in the box,” Vogt said of Manzardo at the plate. “He’s balanced. He’s swinging at good pitches. I think Kyle’s going to hit. It doesn’t really matter where he is (in the order). He’s going to hit.”

And once he debuted, he quickly realized that he’s now the third ex-Cougar currently in the majors, joining Yankees reliever Ian Hamilton and Giants starter Ryan Walker. “It’s a pretty exclusive club to be coming out of Washington State and then getting to play here. It’s cool,” Manzardo said.

Thus far with the Guardians, he’s done a little bit of everything, played first base, pinch hit and been Cleveland’s DH. His first hit came as a pinch hitter on May 8 when he singled an 0-1 pitch from Detroit reliever Jason Foley into left field, a ball which is back in Cleveland for safe keeping, a keepsake he will give to his father.

In his first 12 games, Manzardo is 6 for 33 with three doubles, a walk and 10 strikeouts.

Being a rookie means he has certain rookie responsibilities, or rites of passage, to endure, his way of paying his dues as a newcomer . “Just carrying certain bags, speakers and stuff like that,” Manzardo said. “It’s nothing ridiculous.”

One other change, a minor one, is that he’s now wearing No. 9 for the first time, a digit which he has already developed a liking for. “I wouldn’t say it (nine) has special meaning, I just like the number. I joined the team a month and a half in, and a lot of numbers are taken, but I like nine,” he said. “I will hopefully wear nine forever.”

Considering he hasn’t been in the Cleveland organization for even a year, Manzardo is all smiles as he takes in his new surroundings in the big leagues. “Yeah, (the trade here has worked out) as good as I could have asked. I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “It’s crazy I wound up here. I’ve said it five times, but I’m grateful for how it’s all shaken out.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.