The Manoah storyline has been one of the more unusual ones in baseball this season. He broke out in 2021 with a 3.22 ERA over 20 starts in his rookie season. He then took things to another level in 2022 with a 2.24 ERA over 31 starts, logging 196 2/3 innings on the year. He finished third in American League Cy Young voting last year, trailing only Justin Verlander and Dylan Cease.
But he followed that up with immense struggles here in 2023. Through 13 starts, he was tagged for a 6.36 ERA. His strikeout rate dropped from last year’s 22.9% figure to just 17% this year. His walk rate climbed from 6.5% to 14.9%. The situation finally became untenable after a start against the Astros in which he recorded just one out but allowed six earned runs.
It was at that point that the club made the decision to option Manoah, but they didn’t just send him to Triple-A. They sent him to Dunedin, where their Single-A and Complex League clubs play and the club also houses various resources to help pitchers with their mechanics and other fine points of pitching.
It was about three weeks later that he actually pitched in a minor league game, allowing 11 earned runs in a Complex League contest at the end of June. That was followed up with a more encouraging Double-A start on Sunday wherein he allowed just one run in five innings, striking out 10 while walking three. Schneider tells Keegan Matheson of MLB.com that Manoah was able to make a small tweak to get his mechanics to where they were during his successful 2022 season and the club has decided to give him another shot facing big league hitters.
With Manoah gone, the club didn’t fill his rotation spot with a fixed solution. Alongside the four consistent rotation members of Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi, they frequently deployed bullpen games that leaned heavily on pitchers like Trevor Richards and Bowden Francis. If Manoah can make a successful return, it would help the club stabilize the rotation and avoid further taxing the relief corps. Though if it doesn’t work out, Hyun Jin Ryu has begun a rehab assignment and could perhaps step up in a few weeks’ time.
The progression of both Manoah and Ryu will be an interesting storyline to watch, with less than a month remaining until this year’s August 1 trade deadline. General manager Ross Atkins recently spoke about how the rotation was an “obvious” target for the club, though he also mentioned that the status of both Manoah and Ryu were going to be factors in their approach. The Jays are currently 45-40, which places them 2.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Even if Manoah is now up for good, it’s possible that his time in the minors has pushed back his ability to qualify for arbitration by a year. He came into this season with his service time at one year and 130 days, meaning the highest he could get here in 2023 would be 2.130. That would have left him shy of three years and automatic qualification, though he would have been in decent position to qualify as a Super Two player, but the missed time will now hurt his chances in that regard.