Breaking down Manoah’s nightmare start to 2023
An already tough start to the 2023 season got tougher for Alek Manoah on Thursday as he matched the shortest outing of his career, sending the Toronto Blue Jays to their eighth loss in 10 games.
Facing the MLB-leading Tampa Bay Rays, Manoah allowed five runs (four earned) in 3.0 innings along with three hits, six strikeouts and five walks. The 25-year-old threw just 44 of 87 pitches for strikes and could not control the runners he put on as Tampa swiped five bases over the first three innings.
“I’m just trying not to be too perfect,” Manoah said via Keegan Matheson of MLB.com. “If you try to be too perfect, next thing you know you’re down 2-0. Then you try to be more perfect and it’s a two-pitch walk. I just need to attack better.”
The loss dropped Toronto to 26-25, 10.5 games behind the division-leading Rays and three games out of a wild-card spot. Players called a post-game meeting, while manager John Schneider likened his team’s latest stretch to being “punched right in the face.”
"We have to get better," Schneider said. "When it comes down to us as a staff, the expectations are put right in front of you. There is an urgency that needs to be had in order to meet those expectations. Wins and losses out the window, the last 10 days haven't been great, and I think that the urgency in which those expectations are trying to be achieved is not right there."
Manoah’s regression in 2023 is among the largest reasons for the Blue Jays’ struggles. His 5.53 ERA is fourth-worst among MLB’s 72 qualified starters, and he ranks dead last – by quite a lot – in WHIP (1.79) and walks per nine innings (6.37).
|Stat||2022||2023||'23 MLB Rank (Out of 72)|
*Qualified MLB starters only
He started his big league career about as smooth as any pitcher could have. Drafted in 2019 as a junior out of West Virginia, Manoah earned a call-up in fewer than two years and went six shutout innings against the New York Yankees in his MLB debut on May 27, 2021.
That was a sign of things to come as Manoah finished his rookie season with a 3.22 ERA in 20 starts over 111.2 innings, striking out more than a hitter an inning. He took things to another level last season, posting a 2.24 ERA with a WHIP under 1.00 and allowing 144 hits in 196.2 innings. All that was enough to put him third in American League Cy Young voting and made him the Blue Jays’ clear-cut ace heading into 2023.
That was until things started to go sideways.
It started on Opening Day in St. Louis when Manoah allowed two home runs and nine hits in 3.1 innings as the Cardinals tagged him for five earned runs, more than he gave up in any start last season. The Blue Jays came back to win the opener 10-9 and all looked to be right when Manoah turned in seven shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals six days later.
But the consistency that was with him in his first two seasons has been missing ever since. In Manoah’s most recent start before Thursday, one of his rare good ones this season, Schneider lost track of a mound visit pitching coach Pete Walker made earlier in the sixth inning and had to lift Manoah from the game after just 85 pitches and two earned runs. While the Jays got out of the inning unscathed, it felt like an appropriate example of Manoah’s luck in 2023.
Speaking of luck, those who predicted regression for the Homestead, Fla., native this season were quick to point out that his FIP – a stat that adjusts a pitcher’s ERA based on league average results on balls in play – was higher compared to his ERA in each of his first two seasons. In fact, his FIP of 3.35 was more than a run above last season’s ERA and indicated that Manoah was getting more than his fair share of good fortune.
Of course, there are dozens of stats that can tell a different story from the one that actually happened. What matters most are the results that play out, and as good as Manoah was in his first two years, he isn’t the same guy right now.
“He’s just got to stay on the attack, stay in the zone and understand that when his stuff is on, he’s got to be really aggressive,” Schneider said.
"We know we're better than we're playing right now," Manoah said. "We just need to stick together, and we've just got to keep fighting."