'Cranky' right shoulder sidelines Manoah

An MRI shows no structural damage, and righty will be reevaluated in a few days

March 2nd, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Before taking his first question from reporters prior to Saturday's 6-2 loss to Atlanta, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said that he had “one thing off the top.” Good news doesn’t tend to follow that.

is dealing with soreness in his throwing shoulder and “didn’t really bounce back the way he wanted to” after his first Grapefruit League start on Tuesday. The right-hander tried to throw a bullpen session Friday, but he stopped midway through.

“He was throwing and said that it feels a bit cranky, so we wanted to be extra careful at this point,” Schneider said.

Now, the Blue Jays will back Manoah off from throwing for a couple of days and reevaluate how he’s feeling. An MRI showed no structural damage in Manoah’s shoulder, which is the good news. But any mention of the shoulder that goes beyond your standard soreness is cause for some level of concern.

What this means for Manoah
These next few days are crucial. Even if Manoah leaves himself time to ramp up for Opening Day, trying to catch up to the players around you rarely ends well at this time of year. Just look at Alejandro Kirk, who got a late start in 2023 and struggled at the plate, or Yusei Kikuchi, who signed in mid-March the year prior and never quite caught up.

Manoah is already fighting an uphill battle after a poor 2023 season and didn’t look sharp in his spring debut, hitting three batters over 1 2/3 innings. Adding another variable to that isn’t good news, but the Blue Jays should know more by mid-week.

“We’ll see, probably by Tuesday, and go from there,” Schneider said. “We’ve got the off day Wednesday. Hopefully it’s nothing crazy and he can get right back into it, but we’ll wait and see after a couple of days.”

Who is next in line behind Manoah?
The Blue Jays’ rotation depth, which has finally grown into a legitimate strength, might be needed sooner than we expected.

“You look at Mitch White, Bowden Francis,” Schneider said. “Paolo Espino, we’ll give a look, too, and we hope to get Ricky Tiedemann back on the mound here soon. You look at those guys, but hopefully it’s nothing crazy serious with Alek.”

Tiedemann, the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect, dealt with some minor hamstring and calf inflammation just over a week ago, but he will be back on a mound in the coming days to face live hitters and should be on track for a “normal” spring workload. That’s an example of a pitcher getting back on his program just in time for it not to impact the regular season, but still, Tiedemann is likely headed for Triple-A Buffalo to open the year.

Chad Dallas could be the dark horse in all of this, the club’s No. 13 prospect who has slowly earned a legitimate share of the conversation. Francis feels like the front-runner, though, and has earned praise from coaches and teammates alike in camp. Francis posted a 1.73 ERA over 36 1/3 innings last season -- somehow doing so quietly -- but he’ll be challenged with stretching that over longer outings now.

“He added the splitter this year, which I think will be good against lefties to go with his heater and curveball,” Schneider said. “I think it’s just about seeing what his stuff does. We tried to do this a bit last year as camp went on, trying to get him up to 50-60 pitches. His stuff is so good in short spurts, but can you harness that as you get your pitch count up?”

The demands of a No. 5 starter aren’t what they once were, which matters here. If the Blue Jays could get Francis through the lineup twice and then hand off to a bulk reliever, like White, then that’s a fine way to patchwork the rotation spot. Francis and Trevor Richards combined to essentially replace Manoah a year ago, and with Toronto’s four other starters combining to form one of the more reliable quartets in baseball, this organization shouldn’t be terribly worried about the bullpen wearing out early.

Whether the Blue Jays need to break out these backup plans is for the coming days to decide. But if you want to squint to find a silver lining in Saturday’s news, the Blue Jays are in a significantly better position to weather rotation injuries than they were at this point last year.