The Blue Jays dropped an 11-4 contest to the Astros last night, snapping a four-game win streak. The game was never competitive, as Toronto found itself in a six-run hole before coming up to hit. Alek Manoah put the club behind the eight ball, allowing eight of nine opponents to reach base and being charged for six runs.
It was the worst performance in a season that has been a nightmare for the 25-year-old. Manoah comes out of the appearance with a 6.36 ERA over 58 innings. ERA estimators like SIERA (5.91), xERA (6.42) and FIP (6.52) are equally grim. Manoah has earned a quality start in only two of his 13 outings, although both were scoreless seven-inning gems. The start-to-start consistency hasn’t been there; Manoah has allowed more than a run per inning in five of his appearances and gotten past the fifth inning on only three occasions.
Those results are staggering. Manoah looked like a burgeoning ace two months ago. He posted a 3.22 ERA as a rookie in 2021 and took things to a new level last year. The right-hander twirled 196 2/3 frames of 2.24 ERA ball last season, earning his first All-Star nod and a third-place finish in AL Cy Young balloting. This year, he has the ninth-worst ERA and second-highest FIP among the 96 pitchers with 50+ innings.
Manoah and skipper John Schneider didn’t have definitive answers last night. Speaking postgame, Schneider said “everything is on the table” as the club tries to get Manoah back to form (link via Keegan Matheson of MLB.com). As things stand, Manoah would be lined up to take the ball on Saturday against the Twins.
There’s nothing in the former first round pick’s performance this year that’d inspire confidence. Manoah’s 17% strikeout percentage is well below average, as is his 8.5% swinging strike rate. He’s not throwing many pitches in the strike zone and he’s not having success in getting opponents to reach for stuff off the plate. That’s a combination that’ll lead to a lot of free passes. Manoah has issued an MLB-worst 42 walks.
The results haven’t been any better when Manoah has gone after opponents. He’s not missing many bats within the strike zone and is giving up a lot of hard contact. He’s already surrendered 11 home runs after giving up just 16 longballs all of last year. His fastball velocity is down a tick and he’s not getting as much lateral movement on his slider. The breaking ball has been particularly problematic, as opponents are hitting .328 and slugging .603 in 58 at-bats ending in a slider.
Most pitchers would’ve already lost their rotation spot with those kinds of numbers. Manoah, of course, isn’t the average pitcher. The Jays have understandably deferred to his pre-2023 track record in giving him a couple months to sort things out. Without any indication a breakthrough is imminent, though, the pressure is building on the coaching staff and front office. Toronto is a win-now club in the sport’s toughest division. They’re in fourth place despite a 33-28 record. The margin for error is too narrow in the AL East to wait much longer.
Where can the Jays go from here? They don’t have an off day until next Monday, so skipping Manoah’s next start only works if they want to put extra stress on a bullpen that had to cover 8 2/3 innings yesterday. There’s no indication he’s pitching through any discomfort that’d warrant a 15-day injured list stint. Barring injury, the likeliest courses of action are to keep Manoah on turn in the rotation or option him back to Triple-A Buffalo for a reset.
Further complicating matters is the Jays’ lack of rotation depth. Toronto entered the year with a top-heavy starting staff of Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi. That quintet has taken all 61 of the team’s starts. Gausman has been great and Berríos has gotten on track after a tough 2022 campaign. Bassitt has decent results despite middling strikeout and walk numbers.
Gausman, Bassitt and Berríos are locks for three rotation spots. Kikuchi probably isn’t in immediate danger of losing his job with a 4.40 ERA but he pitched his way out of a starting spot last season and is tied for the MLB lead with 17 homers allowed this year. Kikuchi is already a fringe starter for a hopeful contender. Manoah’s a second question mark and the Jays don’t have many alternatives below them.
Mitch White and Hyun Jin Ryu have been out all season. White’s on a rehab stint in Triple-A, at least, though he’s no sure thing after posting a 5.45 ERA last year. Ryu probably won’t be back until after the All-Star Break as he rehabs from last summer’s Tommy John procedure.
Former Marlin and Pirate Zach Thompson is on the 40-man roster but has an ERA pushing 7.00 in Buffalo. Prospect Yosver Zulueta is working in short stints in Triple-A. 20-year-old Ricky Tiedemann is the organization’s top minor league pitcher but he has just 23 2/3 career frames above A-ball. Non-roster veterans Casey Lawrence and Drew Hutchison have mediocre Triple-A numbers. Bowden Francis has pitched well in four Triple-A starts this year but had a 6.59 ERA in 98 1/3 innings there last season.
Meaningful rotation help is rarely available on waivers. It’ll probably be a deadline priority but it’s uncommon for teams to make notable acquisitions in early June. Unless the Jays surprisingly jump the market, they’re not working with great options. There’s a glaring lack of depth even as Toronto has been fortunate enough to avoid any injuries to their top five starters this year. If one of Gausman, Bassitt or Berríos were to miss time at any point, the rotation could be a disaster.
What should Schneider, GM Ross Atkins and the rest of organizational leadership do? Keep running Manoah out there and hope he figures things out, or turn to a depth option while giving last year’s Cy Young finalist some time out of the spotlight?
(poll link for app users)