There’s still something strange about the idea of Alek Manoah walking into the Blue Jays’ training complex in mid-June.
Even in Spring Training, when that sprawling structure is a beehive of baseball activity, Manoah stands out. He’s a giant, both literally and figuratively. By the middle of the summer, though, the Blue Jays’ complex is home to teenaged prospects taking their first steps as professionals and rehabbing players.
Those hallways and training rooms must feel awfully empty now, the backdrop to Manoah’s comeback story after a stunning start to his season led to a full reset.
“He’s working his ass off down there,” manager John Schneider said. “It’s been nice to keep him built up. He threw a multiple-up bullpen Saturday, some of it in the lab and some of it off the mound. I think he was up to 72 pitches with five total ups, so he’s continuing to pitch. We’ve been in pretty consistent touch with him. Everything so far is going good.”
“Ups” here means innings, with Manoah sitting down for five or 10 minutes in between these five “ups” to simulate a real game. With some encouraging results early, he’s scheduled to face some live hitters later this week.
When Schneider and the Blue Jays landed in Baltimore Sunday night, he called Manoah on FaceTime while he was with Hyun Jin Ryu and spoke to them together.
Ryu and Manoah became fast friends after he came up as a rookie, often dining together on the road as the young pupil learned from the master. Ryu is entering the home stretch of his recovery from Tommy John surgery and beginning to face live batters himself, eyeing a return after the All-Star break in mid-July. That date might have some optimism built into it, but either way, Ryu being in the same building can only help Manoah.
“I think it’s good to have a buddy who you can confide in a little bit,” Schneider said. “Ryu’s been through his own ups and downs over the course of his career. It’s good to have them down there together.”
All that said, the path from here still isn’t very clear for Manoah. Besides, there’s not much of a blueprint for what the Blue Jays are doing.
“The whole goal of this was just to do what’s best for Alek,” Schneider said. “We thought, collectively, that taking some time to adjust mechanics and some things on the mound was probably the best thing without going out and having to beat a Major League lineup every fifth day.”
In his absence, the Blue Jays appear set to lean on a combination of Trevor Richards, Bowden Francis, Mitch White and Thomas Hatch to cover chunks of innings. Having a traditional starter to move into Manoah’s slot would make this entire process far easier, but Toronto’s lack of rotation depth is biting them here.
Once Manoah faces some live hitters later this week, we should have a better feel for what the days and weeks ahead could look like. The Blue Jays could have him throw live BP, which is essentially a simulated game, or face young hitters in the Florida Complex League or with Single-A Dunedin. All of that can be accomplished with a quick car ride.
This is all about finding a path back to Toronto, though. Through all of these resources, all of the patience and all of the creativity that’s gone into this process, one thing hangs over it all:
This has to work.