Toronto Star

The possibilit­ies for Manoah are limitless

- Gregor Chisholm Twitter: @GregorChis­holm

Teams never want to see their players get hurt, but an injury to Alek Manoah in mid-July has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for both the Blue Jays and their rookie righthande­r.

Manoah went over three weeks between outings after he slipped on the dugout steps at Sahlen Field in Buffalo in the days that followed the all-star break. The freak mishap cost him three starts and potentiall­y upwards of 18 to 24 innings.

At the time, the injury was considered yet another blow to a team that had been riddled with medical issues for most of the season. The Jays had yet to acquire José Berríos through trade and the team’s starting pitching was still a glaring weakness, not the strength it is today. Removing Manoah from the roster wasn’t meant to be strategic, it just turned out that way.

A by-product of Manoah’s brief mid-season pause was that he no longer had to worry about an innings limit. There won’t be a shutdown later this month, or even next if the Jays make the post-season; the 23-year-old product of West Virginia is physically prepared to take the ball for however long his team remains in the race.

That’s great news for the Jays, who are in a dogfight with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners for the two American League wild-card spots. Having Manoah sit worked out just fine before, but it’s not a scenario the Jays would care to revisit during a crucial final stretch. They need him on the mound where he has been dominant at times, including Monday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays when he struck out 10 across eight scoreless innings in an 8-1 win.

“His first full season in the big leagues and he still looks that strong,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who earlier in the day confirmed Manoah isn’t at risk of being shut down. “That’s huge. Of course, we’re going to be watching, but you can see it, he looks good. He looks just like he did at the beginning of the season. He’s not losing anything. He looks pretty strong to me.”

Manoah, who became the fastest Jays pitcher to record 100 career strikeouts, has pitched 93 innings this season, which is still well shy of the career-high 125 1/3 he tossed for West Virginia and Class-A Vancouver in 2019. He is expected to have three more starts before the end of the year. Even if he pitched a complete game in each one, which he won’t, the native of Florida would still be below his total from two years ago.

That leaves some wiggle room for what the Jays hope will be deep run in the post-season. If Manoah didn’t miss time, things could have started getting dicey later this month and the team would have been forced to make a tough call, either to let him keep starting, move him to the bullpen or shut him down entirely.

The Washington Nationals were faced with a similar scenario in 2012 when they decided to shut down ace starter Stephen Strasburg as he approached 160 innings. His last outing that year for a team headed to the post-season took place on Sept. 9 and, about a month later, Washington was eliminated in the National League Division Series by the St. Louis Cardinals. It took seven more years before the Nationals went on a deeper run.

This is familiar territory for the Jays as well. In early August of 2016, a decision had been made to transition righthande­r Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen. It was only after a team meeting where several players, including Sanchez, voiced their displeasur­e at the move that the front office and coaching staff decided to reverse course.

Instead, they skipped several of his outings and gave Sanchez extra rest whenever possible. He made four appearance­s in August. A month later, he went 10 days between one outing, six between another, and made just five starts.

That strategy came with some pitfalls. Sanchez’s routine was disrupted at an inopportun­e time and it appeared to impact the quality of his stuff. Over the first four months of the year, had just three starts allowing more than three earned runs. Over the final two, he posted three more and, despite being the AL ERA champion, he wasn’t used until Game 3 of the ALDS versus Texas.

The Jays don’t have to worry about any of that with Manoah, who prior to this year had never pitched above Class-A. There have been no signs of fatigue and Monday’s outing was his best of the season.

Manoah is still within a reasonable innings range and it’s not abnormal to see a pitcher’s workload increase anywhere from 15 to 25 per cent above previous career highs, which leaves a long runway for October. Even without the July pause, Manoah might have been fine. Without it, any doubt has been removed.

“It goes into the preparatio­n before the season leading up, spring training, this is what it’s all about right here,” Manoah said. “The whole year is preparatio­n for September and October baseball. We’re in uncharted territory. I’ve never been before, but (we) just have to continue to trust the training, continue to trust everything we’ve done and continue to compete.”

The bigger concern in the Jays rotation might be veteran Hyun-Jin Ryu, who hasn’t looked like himself for the last month. Since Aug. 8, Ryu is 2-3 with a 7.27 ERA across seven starts, three of which involved games with at least seven runs. An ERA that registered at 3.22 on Aug. 3 now sits at a disappoint­ing 4.11.

A similar narrative developed last year leading into the postseason. Ryu didn’t fade down the stretch quite as much as he has been doing this year, but there was lots of talk about fatigue and the superior numbers Ryu produced with an extra days’ rest. That’s been the story again in 2021 with Ryu posting a 5.64 ERA on a normal schedule and a 2.61 ERA on five days’ rest. That’s a problem the Jays will have to deal with.

 ?? COLE BURSTON GETTY IMAGES ?? A slip on the dugout steps in Buffalo cost Alek Manoah about three weeks in July, but it might have saved the Blue Jays from having to make a decision about how much they could use the rookie right-hander down the stretch.
COLE BURSTON GETTY IMAGES A slip on the dugout steps in Buffalo cost Alek Manoah about three weeks in July, but it might have saved the Blue Jays from having to make a decision about how much they could use the rookie right-hander down the stretch.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada