Steve Phillips: It’s time to send Alek Manoah to the minors

Alek Manoah’s start on Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers wasn’t his best, but we have seen worse from him this season.

He went four innings, giving up two earned runs on three hits while walking three and striking out two. He allowed a two-run homer to account for the runs. He was not very efficient, as it took him 89 pitches (59 strikes) to navigate the four innings. Just over 66 per cent (66.2) of his pitches were strikes, which is not awful. He threw 72 per cent first-pitch strikes, which is an improvement on his 55 per cent rate for the entire season.

But despite throwing strike one he still couldn’t put hitters away. He walked the leadoff man in three of his four innings, which is a baseball no-no. Leadoff walks can come back and haunt a pitcher. Manoah walked a batter to open the second inning then immediately gave up a home run. He allowed four extremely hard-hit balls over 100 mph.

Manoah tried to negotiate his way back out on the mound for the fifth inning, but Jays manager John Schneider appropriately took him out of the game. Manoah didn’t have his best stuff or command, as evidenced by the walks and his inability to put hitters away. He allowed 18 foul balls. He couldn’t get the swing and misses (nine total).

From a coaching perspective, I could sell the start as a baby step forward. Manoah threw more strikes and tried to work ahead, which shows that he bought into the mentality of being more aggressive. His mental approach was better.

But his stuff is still short of what we saw last year, which means his mechanics are still not right. His arm speed still wasn’t what we have seen in the past, leaving his pitches somewhat flat and lacking life.

Manoah also looks thicker, quite possibly from overtraining his upper body. He isn’t as athletic getting down the slope of the mound as he was last year. His upper body looks tied up and less flexible.

Manoah has a lot of work to do. His mental approach was better, but physically and mechanically he is not the same pitcher from 2022.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I would send the 25-year old righty to the minor leagues to get fixed.

There is no shame in this. Of course, it will hurt his feelings and he will be disappointed, but the competitive Manoah I believe in won’t turtle and disappear. He will get hungry and angry and work his tail off to get back. There is something about a demotion that makes players more willingly make the adjustments that are being suggested. Sometimes players have to hit rock bottom to surrender their way.

The Jays can’t use the fact that they don’t have an obvious replacement for Manoah as a reason not to do it. Fixing Manoah has to be the priority, and taking him out of the spotlight seems critical to make the changes necessary.

Find a replacement or manufacture one. One option would be to use an opener, and then have Trevor Richards or Nate Pearson serve as the bulk pitcher after that. Or start making trade offers to the failing teams: Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, and Colorado Rockies.

The trade market won’t be great this early in the season because even the bad teams want to keep their better players to sell tickets for a few more weeks. But you never know what can be done to entice a team to make a deal. I would also have my scouts scouring Triple-A for a catch-lightning-in-a-bottle option. Search for pitchers who have major-league experience but are currently in the minor leagues. Many veteran players have an out in their contract that grants them their release if they are not in the majors by a certain date.

Find an arm as soon as possible. Then find another in case the first option fails. Clubs can’t have enough pitching depth.

Spitting Seeds

– White Sox closer Liam Hendriks returned to the mound last Monday for the first time this season after being declared cancer free on April 20. Hendriks, a former Blue Jay, is one of the game’s best relievers. He was diagnosed in early March with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Hendriks attacked cancer like he attacks opposing hitters: with vengeance. He is a warrior and an inspiration to others, as evidenced by the support shown to him by White Sox fans. It’s so good to see him back on a major-league mound.

– A similar feel-good story happened this week as Atlanta pitcher Mike Soroka made his first start for the Braves on Monday since August 3, 2020. It was on that date the right-hander tore his Achilles tendon. It took him almost three years to work his way back because he suffered another tear to the same Achilles and a number of arm issues while rehabbing. Soroka went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and was an All-Star in his rookie season. The Calgary native was an up-and-coming young ace with a very bright future before his injury. He has toiled in obscurity for the past few years, at times feeling invisible and forgotten, but he is back. His first start wasn’t great as he went six innings while allowing five hits and four earned runs. He struck out three and walked two batters. He took the loss in the game, but for all of those who have been watching his tenacious efforts to return, it was a major win. Now he will work to reclaim his dream and pursuit of greatness. It’s a tremendous comeback story.

– The stories of Hendriks and Soroka reinforce how unpredictable pitching can be for a general manager when building a team. There are so many things that are out of your control. Look at last year’s Cy Young finalists, who are all having issues this season. The AL Cy Young winner was Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who has only made four starts this season for his new team, the New York Mets, because of a spring training injury. The NL award winner was Sandy Alcantara of the Miami Marlins, who has struggled this season at 2-5 with a 4.93 ERA. The other finalists in the AL were Alek Manoah and Dylan Cease. You know about Manoah’s struggles. Cease is 3-3 with a 4.88 ERA for the White Sox this year. The NL finalists were Max Fried (Braves) and Julio Urias (Dodgers), who are both currently on the injured list. It’s a reminder that teams need to go for it when they have a chance to make the playoffs and therefore a shot at the World Series. The idea that next year may be better is flawed. You are not promised anything for next year. Just ask all six of last year’s Cy Young finalists and their teams.