Not an easy fix, but rebooted Manoah will thrive again
The Toronto Blue Jays have finally conceded that Alek Manoah wasn’t going to get “fixed” at the Major League level.
After giving up six earned runs – retiring only one of the nine batters he faced – in just one-third of an inning of work Monday night against the Houston Astros, the right-hander had hit rock bottom.
Manoah had such a defeated look on his face after Monday’s 11-4 loss. In fact, his facial expression matched his words when he told reporters: “A lot of things I’ve been working on, I didn’t really have a chance to go out there and use that.”
The game unravelled so quickly for Manoah in the heat of competition that remembering mechanical adjustments and the game plan simply frittered away.
On Tuesday, the Jays optioned their 2022 American League Cy Young Award finalist to Dunedin in the Florida Complex League, which is effectively entry-level baseball.
The players who participate in that league are the youngest and the greenest. The games are played in the spring training stadiums in Florida and fans can watch for free. Winning a championship in that rookie-level circuit means nothing to an organization. Sure, you want the players to play well and win, but the league stresses development far more than winning.
This is a safe place for Manoah who, with his dismal 1-7 record and 6.36 ERA this year, needs a bunker to silence all the noise and just get back to pitching. There is no spotlight in Dunedin. There are no reporters who write stories or columns about these games. The Florida Complex League will allow him to clear his head and get away from feeling like he is disappointing fans, the media, his teammates, etc. He will be the big man on campus down there among the young prospects. That is healthy for rebuilding the big man’s ego.
The Jays’ front office definitely made the right move when they opted to send Manoah all the way down to the Complex League. If he was shipped to Double-A New Hampshire or Triple-A Buffalo, he would have been bombarded with performance expectations. He also wouldn’t get away with mistake pitches with those minor league affiliates. In the Complex League, hitters often get themselves out, which will be good for him as he rebuilds his confidence.
There is plenty of media attention in the higher minor leagues. The Triple-A Bisons, playing in Buffalo, are situated too close to Toronto. There are road trips and plenty of time is spent on buses in both Double-A and Triple-A. Florida is as far away from Toronto as the Jays could send Manoah. Plus, this is complex baseball. He will show up every day at the facilities in Dunedin. There aren’t overnight trips in the Complex League. It’s like spring training travel from complex to complex.
Manoah needs to spend more time on the field and on the mound than he does riding buses and boarding planes right now.
The program the Jays will have in place for him in Dunedin will focus on his emotional, mental, physical and mechanical well-being.
Manoah has never experienced failure like this in professional baseball, failure which can take a toll on one’s emotions. The Jays will surely focus on affirming his small successes to rebuild his confidence.
Mentally, he needs to get back to trusting his stuff and believing he can get out hitters in the strike zone, instead of nibbling off the corners of the plate. He needs to find that attack mentality that he became famous for during the last couple of seasons, including a 3.22 ERA over 20 starts in his rookie season, going 9-2, and a 2.24 ERA and a 16-7 record in 2022.
Physically, Manoah needs to free up his upper body. I am sure the Jays will have one of their performance coaches with him in Florida focusing on diet, flexibility, range of motion, balance and stamina. He has looked thicker in his chest and shoulders this season (likely from weight training) which seemed to limit his arm speed. He needs to free up his arm to throw free and easy again.
Finally, he has gotten out of sync with his pitching mechanics. He wasn’t maintaining his balance point over the pitching rubber and was drifting toward home plate. This made his arm drag behind and flatten out all of his pitches. That could be because he was trying to overexert to throw harder or to generate arm speed. The Jays need to gain an understanding of what is going on in Alek’s head to get him to fix his mechanics. Emotions, overtrying, doubt, fear and health can all cause a pitcher to mess up his mechanics. Understanding the why will make fixing the mechanics easier.
This will not be an easy fix. When a pitcher goes from being one of the top three starters in the game to one of the worst, there is more than just one thing wrong. I would suspect that once the Jays organization feels comfortable that they are getting his mind, body and movements back on track, they will promote Manoah to Buffalo to get a start or two under his belt. First, however, they need to rebuild his muscle memory so that when he’s facing tougher competition, he can just go out there and pitch and not overthink things.
My experience is that you find out far more about someone during difficult times than in the good times. It is easy to be a good teammate, citizen and interview when you are at the top of your game. But when it is dark and everything feels heavy, your true colours shine through.
I believe in the Alek Manoah I have seen competing during the past couple of years. He will be back, and he will be an ace again.
Rangers burned with oft-injured deGrom
Speaking of aces, the Texas Rangers announced on Tuesday that two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery. It will be the second time in his career that he has undergone the procedure.
This does not come as a complete surprise to me. I have watched deGrom go on and off of the disabled list the last several years in New York. My experience is that where there is smoke, there is fire. He had missed time because of elbow soreness more than a few times. Unfortunately, the ligament finally gave out in his elbow and surgery is necessary.
This is why the New York Mets didn’t pursue the 34-year-old nearly as hard as other teams did. They knew him better than everyone else and were scared away.
The Rangers knew there were risks, but they still gave the righty a five-year deal worth $185 million in free agency this past off-season. Because of his previous elbow surgery and multiple other arm injuries in recent years, the Rangers were not able to secure disability insurance on his contract, so they will be paying the full-freight of $37 million per year even when he can’t pitch. They got burned. Now they have to hope he comes back at the end of next season and reclaims his abilities.
The good news, however, for the surprising Rangers is that one of their other free-agent signings, Nate Eovaldi, is pitching like what they expected from deGrom. Eovaldi is 8-2 with a 2.24 ERA and has a 193 ERA+, which means the 33-year-old is 93 per cent better than the average major league pitcher this year.
In fact, the entire Rangers’ starting rotation is exceeding expectations with a 3.19 ERA which is second best in the majors. Plus, the Rangers have the game’s most potent offence, averaging 6.4 runs per game. The offence builds margin for error for the pitching staff which allows them to attack hitters in the zone. The starters don’t have to be perfect.
Every team has to overcome adversity during the long baseball season. The Rangers are thriving with a 40-21 record so far this season, good enough for first place in the AL West.