Manoah’s demotion a drastic step, but shows Blue Jays have his best interest at heart –

TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays could have thrown out the results of a six-run one-out game against the Houston Astros, looked closely at the process, and talked themselves into allowing Alek Manoah another start.

A flare base hit at 68.1 mph on the first go, a bunt base hit in combat just hard enough to be fair, and then a 90.3 mph chopper that when he’s off normally skillful Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is probably a double play. Even Corey Julks’ Grand Slam, where a sinker left the zone just above his knees, wasn’t a terrible pitch. So there’s a real path to a much neater first step, and when that happens, who knows? This is Alek Manoah, after all.

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But at some point it also became clear that this is not Alek Manoah. At least not the one who took the majors by storm in 2021, ran all 35 minor league innings in nine starts and made the All-Star team in 2022, he sexy told broadcaster John Smoltz via mic on the hill , for calling Jeff McNeil a backfoot slider, and ended up coming in third place in the AL Cy Young poll.

The Blue Jays had already streamlined the 89-pitch, four-inning, two-run grind against the Milwaukee Brewers last week. The process cannot trump the results forever.

“Those are the things that seem to be happening game after game lately,” pitching coach Pete Walker said of the Astros misfortune. “And it’s not just bad luck. That’s not the only reason. But bad luck seems to show itself when someone is struggling. It’s just hard to get out of this hole.”

Because of that, the Blue Jays decided Tuesday it was time to take out Manoah and send him to the Florida Complex League, where he’ll start progressive promotion back with full access to the club’s Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla becomes the majors. “The pitching lab is part of the plan to ensure that the implementation deficiencies that we identified are addressed,” Walker said.

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After pitching, which is equivalent to a full diagnostic check, “it’s not going to be immediate to throw him straight into games,” explained manager John Schneider. “But if everything goes as it should, hopefully he’ll pick up speed soon.”

While they need the 25-year-old to bounce back quickly, the Blue Jays won’t be pushing Manoah through a break from the hustle and bustle of a season in which his best on the hill was a moving target.

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The steady deterioration in his results over the past month meant that news of his downgrade was largely met with both understanding of the reasons behind it and disbelief that such dramatic action was actually necessary.

While situations have varied in the past, this ordinance has a precedent in Blue Jays history: Roy Halladay was sent to the A-ball with the late pitching guru Mel Queen in 2001, where he made a full physical and mental recovery should, and Ricky Romero moved to Dunedin 2013. Both moves came during spring training, while Manoah will certainly want to bounce back quickly as the Blue Jays battle to get into the second straight postseason.

Of course, the way he goes about his work once the shock wears off will be crucial. Veteran Chris Bassitt, who was picked 14 times by the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics before establishing himself in the majors, is confident his young teammate will understand “that’s something everyone goes through” and get out of it will turn out better.

“First and foremost, despite the struggles, his maturity is really overlooked. It’s really admirable how he’s conducted himself off the field and in public,” Bassitt said. “Second, I’ve been given an option so many times it’s not really funny. And I fought. I mean, (Kevin) Gausman got expelled from the DFA. We’ve all experienced that. This is not uncommon in our sport. It’s just unfortunate for us that he had a little trouble. But when it comes to him and his career, so to speak, I have no doubt that he will come back this year and be really good.”

George Springer added, “He’s done a really good job of coping with what he’s going through individually, while feeling like he’s letting us down, which isn’t true.” He’s loved and he knows everyone loves him loves. A huge part of our team. … He’ll be back up here soon, doing what we know he can.”

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are hoping Bowden Francis, selected from Triple-A side Buffalo, will fill the void, at least initially, although he’s also available for mass innings ahead of time if needed. Unless he’s fielded up front, he’ll get the ball against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, possibly after a game opener, and there are plenty of options on the table beyond that.

There are few options behind Francis in Buffalo, with just-optioned Jay Jackson and Thomas Hatch adding more multi-inning opportunities. Outside of the organization, there are few players with minor league deals and impending outs, and even less attractive alternatives.

In other words, the Blue Jays really need to stay healthy and they need Manoah to get things right quickly. But there are no shortcuts in this process and they would not have taken this drastic step if they didn’t have what was best for him at heart.

“After the (Monday) outing,” Walker said, “it just felt like we’d gotten to the point where now he just needs to step back from that level to continue with the things that he’s been doing and what he’s been working on, which is to evolve.” His performance was just a small part, he was consistently getting into the strike zone, hitting first pitch shots, getting some weak contacts, all the things he did last year has done. That’s where he has to go. It’s difficult to do that and continue to work through at the major league level. Sometimes you feel like you’re really close, but everything that can go wrong happens. …

“When you’re looking for results and they don’t exist, you tend to shy away from contact. They try to ignore bats. You try to knock down guys before they hit you twice. You do some things that are not normal for you. He never pitched like that before. And it was almost like he was looking for results. … I think his stuff is really close. The delivery is really close. He’s got a few things to work on. But we’re very optimistic that this is only a short time and that we can bring him back here and he’ll breathe some life into the team when he comes back and he’ll be the pitcher we know from last year a year ago .”

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