Manoah lasts just three innings as rough stretch continues
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays’ recent skid through the AL East is troubling enough, but watching Alek Manoah continue to struggle adds another layer of worry.
Manoah lasted just three innings on Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field, tying the shortest outing of his career, and the Opening Day starter now owns a team-worst 5.53 ERA. The series loss capped a disastrous 2-8 run through the American League East over the past 10 days.
This entire team is searching for answers following a 6-3 loss to the Rays that ended in a team meeting called by the players -- and it’s important that Manoah finds them. The right-hander walked five batters, a new issue that’s followed him all season, and with little help from the team behind him, it snowballed quickly.
“I’m just trying not to be too perfect,” Manoah said. “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.”
This has been a stunning encore to Manoah’s brilliant 2022 season, when he placed third in American League Cy Young Award voting with a 2.24 ERA. Now, this is where Manoah stands:
• Manoah’s 6.37 walks per nine innings is the worst mark in Major League Baseball among qualified starters, and it isn’t close. Washington’s MacKenzie Gore, who ranks 71st out of 72 ahead of Manoah, has walked 4.76 batters per nine
• The 38 walks allowed by Manoah rank second-worst in MLB, only ahead of Brad Keller of the Royals
• Manoah’s WHIP of 1.79 ranks last in MLB among qualified starters
• Manoah is throwing 19.08 pitches per inning, the most among all qualified starters
• His 5.53 ERA is the fifth-worst in the Majors among qualified starters
“He’s got to be in the zone more consistently, I think,” said manager John Schneider. “It sounds funny, but I thought his stuff was good. It was getting ahead, then getting right back into hitters’ counts. Get ahead 0-2, then it’s 2-2 or 3-2 and there were a couple four-pitch walks, too. 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.”
Making things worse on Thursday? The Blue Jays’ defense danced to the same tune as Manoah’s pitching.
Manoah had a shot at a scoreless first, but on a swinging strike three, the ball got away from Alejandro Kirk, allowing Brandon Lowe to beat the throw to first. On the very next pitch, Harold Ramírez hit into what should have been an inning-ending double play, but Cavan Biggio bobbled the routine ground ball and a run scored.
The second inning started with Luke Raley falling into an 0-2 count, then watching four straight balls sail by. He later scored. The following frame featured a double steal of second and third, with a run scoring on Kirk’s throwing error.
The Rays ran wild on the Blue Jays, going 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts. Most weren’t even close, as Tampa Bay timed up some massive secondary leads before breaking. Schneider believes the Rays were picking up on Toronto’s pitching cadence on the mound, quickly reacting to the pitchers’ tendencies and timing.
It’s just the second time in club history that an opponent has stolen seven or more bases without being thrown out by the Blue Jays. The only other instance came three decades ago, in 1992 against the Yankees.
“I guess we’ve just got to figure out what they had,” Manoah said.
Two months in, there’s a lot for Toronto to figure out. Better days will come for Manoah, a gifted pitcher with the mentality to lead a rotation, something he’s already proven at the MLB level. Life comes at you fast in the American League East, though, and right now, it’s blurring right by.