The Toronto Blue Jays made a flurry of moves on Tuesday, highlighted by optioning starter and 2022 AL Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah to the Florida Complex League.
In addition to optioning Manoah, the Jays reinstated Santiago Espinal from the IL while also bringing Chris Bassitt back from the paternity list and calling up right-hander Bowden Francis to take Manoah’s spot on the roster (and possibly the rotation). Jay Jackson and Ernie Clement were optioned to Triple-A as corresponding moves, while Zach Thompson was DFA’d.
In his third season with the Jays, Manoah has struggled on the mound since the get-go, with the Florida product amassing a 6.36 ERA through 13 starts and 58 innings. His command has disappeared, leading to a 6.5 BB/9, and the Jays’ Opening Day starter currently leads the league with 42 free passes. On top of that, Manoah has pitched to a 1.889 WHIP, and opponents currently own a .289 batting average and a .893 OPS against him; he has allowed 10.6 H/9 and 1.7 HR/9 as well. The Jays’ pitcher has only gone 5+ innings five times this season, while surrendering five or more earned runs four times, once in each month of the season so far.
Alek Manoah: Under the Hood
When you look under the hood, the command is the one thing that stands out above the rest, but the right-hander is also struggling to utilize his slider and fastball effectively. The two pitches contrasted well with one another when he was throwing them as he did last season. Respectively, his four-seam and his slider generated -18 and -6 run values, while his sinker slotted in at -8. This year, the sinker is the only pitch in his arsenal sitting below zero, with a -4 run value this season. The run values on his four-seam and slider currently sit at +7 and +12, respectively, with opponents hitting .328 against both offerings. His changeup, the least-used pitch in his arsenal, currently sits at a +3.
While there is no sure-fire explanation as to why Manoah is struggling this season (nor is there likely only one contributing factor), the Blue Jays decided to be proactive and optioned him down to the Florida Complex League.
The move to the minors was one that many thought to be likely after his latest outing, where he allowed six earned against the Houston Astros and was pulled before the second inning. The difference is that not many saw the West Virginia alum heading to the FCL versus heading to Triple-A Buffalo, which is a hop, skip, and jump from the Rogers Centre.
The move to Florida signals that the Jays are looking to tinker with their former first-round pick and have decided to send him back to Dunedin, where he can be under the club’s resources at the Player Development Complex.
Roughly two seasons ago, the Jays overhauled the entire facility and made it one of the most state-of-the-art programs in baseball when it came to training and analytics. In Dunedin, it is likely that Manoah will take some time and work with the Blue Jays both on and off the field to get back on track, working on his mechanics and his pitches that were effective last year but which failed to generate outs this season. Manager John Schneider has already indicated that there is no set timeline for Manoah’s return, and the club will see how the righty is progressing along before making any decisions.
This move may seem shocking to the outside eye – it’s rare to see a player of his caliber head down to Rookie League ball – but the Jays appear to be taking the cautious approach with “Big Puma,” a move that is likely to have both physical and mental benefits.
Down in Florida, Manoah will be away from the spotlight and also back in his home state and roughly a four-hour drive away from his hometown of Homestead, Florida. Known for being a “grinder” on the field and trying to battle through adversity, it appears that the Blue Jays are almost asking for the opposite, hoping to see Manoah head down to Florida, work with the lab and work on the finer points of his game away from the big league stage and all the criticism that comes with it. This isn’t your typical “go pitch a few outings in Triple-A” type of demotion. This move signals that the club is going to take a deeper look at Manoah, with likely everything on the table in regards to pitching mechanics all the way to prepping for games and routine.
It’s similar to a move the Jays made back in 2001 with Roy Halladay, where he went down to Class-A to work with the staff right out of the gate to refine his delivery before returning back to the Blue Jays roster in early July. There are obvious differences between the two pitchers, but the philosophy is rooted in the same principle: get away from the bright lights and get back to basics.
The Plan Going Forward
Moving forward with no timeline for Manoah’s return, the Blue Jays are likely to employ Francis in his rotation spot (with some bullpen help behind him) while potentially looking for outside help as well, considering where the Jays stand in the AL East and the weak starting depth behind Francis in the farm system. The Blue Jays’ schedule does also have some well-timed off-days that could allow the club to utilize a hybrid four-man rotation with potentially two games being started by Francis and/or the bullpen.
For now, Manoah is heading off to Florida in an attempt to reset and work under the guidance of the Blue Jays development staff and will likely be looking for game action in the near future as he attempts to find the form that made him a Cy Young finalist last season.