I can't think of many baseball stories in recent memory that are as bizarre as Alek Manoah. The guy showed a ton of promise in his rookie campaign in 2021 and burst onto the scene in 2022. He was dominant, putting up a 2.24 ERA and finishing third in the American League Cy Young voting.
It was not a fluke either. He wasn't some pitcher with a solid ERA and bad underlying numbers. His pitch data was good across the board. Then the calendar turned to 2023, and Manoah fell off the face of the earth. It wasn't out of the possibility that Manoah may take a minor step back. Hubbs pointed out that he may be too fat for the pitch clock. There might be some adjustments, but I didn't expect him to be the worst every 5th-day starter in Major League Baseball.
What went wrong? Everything. None of his pitches were effective, he couldn't locate for shit, and he wasn't missing bats. Things got so bad that Manoah was down to rookie ball to figure things out. In Manoah's first (and only) start in rookie ball, he got absolutely shelled, giving up eleven earned runs over 2.2 innings. When I originally saw those numbers, I figured it would be a long time before we saw Manoah on a Major League. But alas, after one horrific start in rookie ball and one solid start in AA, Manaoah finds himself back on the mound tonight in Detroit against the Tigers.
As this company's resident expert on short rehab stints, something about this doesn't sit well with me. Manoah wasn't just bad before being sent down. He was unpitchable. The last time he took the mound wearing a Blue Jays uniform, he recorded one out and gave up six runs against Houston.
I'm curious about what happened in those two rehab starts that made the Blue Jays front office confident that he could go back to consistently getting outs in the big league. Maybe a mental reset was all he needed. The game of baseball can humble you very quickly. Manoah was on top of the world a year ago, and now he's just trying to find his way back. That pressure must take a toll.
Manoah will have one of the greatest luxuries that any pitcher can ask for in their first start back; he'll be pitching against the Detroit Tigers. Nothing inspires confidence like lobbing Javier Baez sliders in the left-handed batter's box. I'm a bit sarcastic (only a little), but Manoah has struggled in his last two starts against Detroit, including an outing in Rogers Centre last year where he had to leave the game with an injury. And while I won't be rooting for Manoah tonight (he is pitching against my team, after all), I'll be rooting for him in the future. When he's dominating, he is good for baseball. While he's been adamant in the past that "Pressure is something you put in your tires," there is pressure on Manoah to succeed.
The Blue Jays are one of those teams that aren't bad, but we keep waiting for them to break out, and they just haven't. They need a spark. Perhaps Manoah can provide that. If he can revert to where he was last year, the Blue Jays become infinitely more dangerous.