TORONTO – The Blue Jays just hit the reset button on Alek Manoah.
The organization optioned its Opening Day starter to the Florida Complex League Tuesday, a day after he was rocked for six runs and recorded just one out against the Astros to balloon his ERA to 6.36.
It’s been a stunning two months for a pitcher who finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting just a season ago. Not only did Manoah look like a modern, front-line workhorse, he quickly emerged as one of the faces of the franchise, a cornerstone that rotations would be built around for years.
Instead, Manoah’s “early struggles” eventually became more serious, with his mental game and delivery caught in a fight that neither could win. Manoah was no longer attacking hitters with the aggressive approach that so perfectly matched his larger-than-life demeanor on the mound, and you quickly saw that the big right-hander is simply not built to be a pitcher who nibbles at the edges.
“It’s not a knee-jerk reaction,” said manager John Schnedier. “Like I’ve been saying all along, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help him get better, and we feel like that’s the proper first, initial step.”
The Florida Complex League isn’t just a step, though. It’s a million miles away.
Geography matters, and Manoah is essentially being sent back to where it all began in Spring Training. The Blue Jays’ sprawling, shiny new complex houses all of the technology and resources a struggling pitcher could dream of, which should allow Manoah to come along at his own pace. Besides, this process will command patience from both Manoah and the Blue Jays.
“Alek is a guy who, for as highly as we’ve spoken about him for a long time, we’re confident that when he is himself, he’s still going to be a huge part of what we’re trying to do,” Schneider said. “In that environment is the right place to start.”
In the early days of this, all the Blue Jays want to see from Manoah is a bullpen session. He’ll throw at the complex with dozens of eyes and cameras on him, but he won’t be put into games just yet. He’ll throw in Toronto’s new pitching lab, determine exactly what he and the Blue Jays need to focus on and go from there.
It’s easy to compare this to Roy Halladay, who was sent back to Single-A in 2001 to rebuild his delivery, but we’re looking at drastically different pitchers, people, struggles and resources. Frankly, some stories are rare for a reason, and both Manoah and the Blue Jays are entering some fairly uncharted territory in a sport that puts so much energy into avoiding those exact areas.
Schneider made another thing clear, too. Manoah is still part of this team, even if he’s in a different area code. This is not a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, and the team will actively work with Manoah throughout.
The organization plans to “get the ball rolling” by sending David Howell, its assistant pitching coach (strategy), down with Manoah. This group will also include remote help from Pete Walker and Jeff Ware with the potential of more hands-on involvement from Paul Quantrill, the 14-year MLB veteran who is back with the Blue Jays’ front office as a special assistant.
There’s a mental hurdle to clear, too, amid this mess of physical hurdles. Manoah’s struggles have never been clearer than in Toronto two starts ago, when he had to fight back his emotions.
“The mindset of ‘Don’t throw a ball here’ instead of ‘Throw a strike right here’ is … it’s a difference maker,” Manoah said. “Right now, I’m stuck in ‘Don’t throw a ball here.'”
This is so far from what anyone expected in 2023, but the Blue Jays are adjusting to the new reality on the fly. Bowden Francis has been recalled, representing a potential option to take Manoah’s place in the rotation, but Toronto’s pitching depth is not built to handle much more pressure than this. Until now, Toronto had been the only MLB club to use just five starters.
From here? All this has to do is work. It’s a tall order with no real blueprint and no real timeline.
“Whenever he’s ready is when he’s ready,” Schneider said.
The time may come when, as with Halladay, this is just a fascinating note in a long, storied career. Manoah is certainly capable of making that happen. For now, though, it represents a full reset for both the Blue Jays and one of their biggest stars.