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Manoah looks rebuilt in mind, body and spirit

Alek Manoah Toronto Blue Jays Alek Manoah - The Canadian Press

Alek Manoah certainly has Blue Jays fans dreaming again.

His past two starts, where he went seven innings both times without allowing an earned run, have reminded us of who he was in 2021 and 2022. He looks like that pitcher who is difficult to hit and who throws strikes. He can get swings and misses in and out of the strike zone. 

Manoah also has his swagger back on the mound. He has a strut and half-smile, or maybe more of a smirk, that says, “I can dominate you.”

He has put a ton of hard work in with the Jays pitching department, both at the major-league level and minor-league level. The coaches deserve credit for sure, but this bounce back is mostly about Manoah.

He has had a major gut check. He went to the depths of despair and personal uncertainty – a place where one feels so alone. It’s loud in that place, with voices saying so many negative things that thick skin can’t protect you. The voice that is the loudest is your own. You start to doubt your own abilities. You question who you are and start to doubt your ability to find a way back.

Yet somewhere in there a quiet voice says, “Yes, I can do it again.” It’s unconvincing at first, but it’s there.

You never know when a struggling player will turn the corner. It might have been one pitch Manoah threw in a bullpen session. At some point, he started feeling like himself again. He heard the voice. The good feeling gets reinforced by coaches, and the negative voices get quieter. The negative self-talk reverses as confidence begins to rise.

When Manoah struggled last year, I wrote that he would need to be rebuilt in three ways: physically, emotionally and mentally. Physically, he needed to get his shoulder healthy and get in better shape. Emotionally, he needed to rebuild his confidence. Mentally, he needed to get back in attack mode and trust his stuff by going after hitters in the zone. 

He laboured so much last year. It looked like it took everything he had to throw the ball. Manoah has shown that he is healthy this year. He is throwing harder this season than at any point in his career. The ball is coming out of his hand free and easy. His extension is the longest in his career, meaning he is releasing the ball closer to the hitter. His spin rates are the highest they’ve ever been.

Much was made about the pitch timer affecting Manoah in 2023.  If it was an issue, it has been resolved by way of better pitching mechanics and conditioning. The faster pace is not taking a toll on him.

He is emotionally in a much better place. The success has rebuilt his confidence, as evidenced by his body language on the mound and in the dugout. His posture is better. His face looks much more relaxed and less anxious. 

The mental changes are obvious, too. He walked two batters combined in his past two starts. He is attacking hitters again, throwing his pitches with conviction and pounding the zone instead of trying to miss bats. He is working ahead of hitters (66 per cent first-pitch strikes in his past two starts) and has gotten a combined 26 swings-and-misses. 

It is sure looking like Manoah is healed and rebuilt. He is improved in mind, body and spirit. The true test of his recovery, however, will be what happens after a bad start. 

At some point, he will have a game where he makes a couple of mistakes, and they get hit over the wall. Will he be able to hold on to his confidence, approach, and mechanics? Once someone falls into the pit, they can be triggered by going through similar experiences that led them there in their past. The outside voices of doubt might be loud after a bad game. Can he control his internal voice and hold on to what he has found over the past year? 

Manoah has paid a price for what is now wisdom. Wisdom can prevail in the battle of the mind because it’s based upon past experience and performance. He will remember being there before, what it felt like, and what he did to recover.

I believe in Manoah. 


Guerrero, Bichette rumours

There was a report this week that the Blue Jays have had discussions about the possibility of trading Bo Bichette and/or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. if the team doesn’t get back on track this season.

“I don’t think they’re opposed to it,” an American League executive told’s Mark Feinsand. “They’ve talked to teams about it. The asks were ridiculous, but I think they’re going to try to retool a lot, and using those guys to get pieces may be the way to do it.” 

“Neither of them are off to great starts, but other teams might view them as change-of-scenery guys,” an NL executive told Feinsand. “Everyone knows what these guys can do, but that roster might just need a change.”

This could be a conversation as simple as Jays GM Ross Atkins responding a question about whether they would move Bichette or Guerrero and saying, “We don’t want to, but if things don’t turn around we might have to consider everything.  But it would take players like A, B and C and then some, for us to even consider it.” Just because it was mentioned in a conversation, doesn’t mean it will happen.

Before you get too upset by this, understand that this is appropriate general managing to discuss what might happen with other clubs. The inappropriate aspect is that a rival general manager would share the thinking of another team with someone in the media. I would feel disrespected by my peer, and it would compromise the trust in our relationship.

This is where my GM experience conflicts with my media work. As a media member, I should want a free flow of information. The media is never wrong to ask the questions. It’s up to the interviewee to answer in the way they see fit.