Alek Manoah returns to the Blue Jays, starting Friday

Alek Manoah returns to the Blue Jays, starting Friday

Chicago – He’s back. Yes in deed.

“We haven’t really put a time frame on it,” said manager John Schneider. “We said from day one that he would let us know when he was ready for the work he was doing. After that, he puts the results aside and really focus on the things he’s been working on there. He’s a big part of our team this year and going forward. If we feel he’s ready to come back and contribute, we’ll move on.” Go ahead and pull the trigger.”

The past month has been incredibly unique. Manoah went from one of baseball’s true masters in 2022, finishing third in AL Cy Young Award voting, to posting a 6.36 ERA over his first 13 starts in ’23. Nobody has this box on their bingo card.

Manuah wasn’t the first talented player to struggle to maintain his hit, but the touchdown was exceptional and the decision to return Manuah to the complex—not just Triple-A—underscored the seriousness of the situation.

In the first weeks of Manoah’s assignment to the complex, he gave breakout sessions and worked in the Blue Jays Monument Lab. This lab is a high-tech corner of the Blue Jays’ latest renovation, which is designed to give players every data point imaginable. It’s already amplifying the value with younger prospects as they develop pitches and speed, but he got his own call-up to the big leagues when Manoah arrived.

But this past week, Manuah’s comeback trajectory took a shocking turn. In his first FCL game, facing 18- and 19-year-old batters, Manoah allowed 11 times on 10 hits over just 2 2/3 innings pitched. Schneider and GM Ross Atkins both preached patience, saying they liked what they saw far more than the horrific outcome the fund suggested, and moved him to Double-A New Hampshire to start on Sunday.

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Take two went much better. Manoah hit 10 times over five innings of one-run ball, and seemed to be getting more confident as his outing went on. That confidence is a key part of this, which was shown in his inflated walking rate earlier this year. Manoah himself admitted that he was “trying to be too perfect,” which is no good for a bulldog rookie.

“With everything he was mechanically working on with throwing the punch, we were saying all the time that he had a pretty good checklist of things we wanted to see,” said Schneider. “A minor tweak mechanically and we like what we’re seeing compared to last year and now, as opposed to the beginning of this year.”

Numbers are important to Manoah—both advanced metrics and box scores—but the eye test is very important to a shooter like him, too.

“He’s in the zone,” Schneider said. “His last step was 95 mph. This is a guy who can help us clearly.”

This context is part of this. The Blue Jays need a head start, period.

Hyun Jin Ryu is working on a comeback from Tommy John surgery and threw three innings in his FCL debut Monday, which could put him on track for a comeback within the month, but the Blue Jays have been riding a four-man rotation without Manoah. Without a solid starting sixth to fall back on, the Blue Jays immediately turned to bullpen games, as they piled on Trevor Richards and Bowden Francis.

Friday in Detroit is as reasonable a place to land as any for Manoah, though, on the road facing the 28th-ranked Tigers in MLB with a team OPS of 0.670. There’s no “easy” in MLB, but he wasn’t exactly required to shut out the Braves’ lineup on Friday night in front of a Toronto crowd.

If this works, that’s the story of the season for the Blue Jays. Manuah has long been the one player who could turn around Toronto’s fortunes if he rediscovers a level close to himself in 2022.

At 45-40, this is a Blue Jays team that simply needs a spark. That still needs work, of course, but if that’s the case, Manoah is the biggest, brightest, loudest spark you could ask for.

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