When Yusei Kikuchi prematurely left Tuesday night's contest, Blue Jays fans everywhere began to panic. Is he going to go on the injured list? If so, will he be ready for a potential playoff start? Who replaces him in the rotation? were some of the more common questions being asked immediately after his departure.
But above all, a point was driven home, primarily on Blue Jays Twitter, that if Alek Manoah hadn't skipped out on his most recent minor league assignment, he would most definitely be the one to slot into the big league rotation in Kikuchi's place. Fortunately, the resurgent southpaw is not expected to miss much time, even going as far as to tell The Athletic's Kaitlyn McGrath that he anticipates making his next start.
Alek Manoah could be the perfect replacement for Yusei Kikuchi if he needs an IL stint, but...
As for Manoah, the fans have a point. Down in Triple-A with the Buffalo Bisons, there aren't exactly a ton of options to come up and start games for the Blue Jays. As a matter of fact, the only five pitchers on the 40-man roster down in Buffalo are Manoah; Bowden Francis, who is not built up to a starter's workload this year; Yosver Zulueta and then Jay Jackson and Zach Pop, two relievers.
By now, you all have heard the stories. When Manoah was demoted to Buffalo this time around, he did not join the team right away, instead "staying in Toronto" to "undergo medical testing". Both of those turned out to be false cover-ups, strangely fabricated and pushed to the media by someone in the Blue Jays' front office. The right-hander went M.I.A. on the Jays, dropping off of the grid with no contact between him and anyone in the organization not named Atkins or Shapiro. By now, he has returned to Buffalo but is on the "temporarily inactive list", meaning he is likely not going to throw another pitch this year at any level.
Such a massive fall from grace from someone who was supposed to be the "next big thing" for the Blue Jays is extremely disappointing. In less than a year, Manoah turned himself into a potential long-term ace to, well, major letdown. His tenure in Toronto is certainly not over (yet), but essentially telling your team (and teammates) that you're too good to report to Triple-A sends a strong message that no player should want to send to others in the organization.
In 19 outings for the big league club, the 25-year-old Manoah looked like a shell of the pitcher he was last year. He limped to the finish line with a 3-9 record, 5.87 ERA and 6.02 FIP. Nothing about his stat line suggests he was even a passable arm at the big league level.
In the Bisons' current starting rotation, there are a few names that stand out as potential Kikuchi replacements if one is needed, but none of them are currently on the 40-man roster that is at full capacity right now. Mitch White, who is suddenly an ace-like pitcher, is down there, as are Zach Thompson and Wes Parsons, but the reality is that none of them are the proper fits to place into the starting rotation of a playoff contender.
If Kikuchi is correct and he'll be ready for his next start, that's obviously the best outcome possible here. The left-hander has been incredible this season, posting career bests in wins (10), ERA (3.74), FIP (4.19) and strikeouts (170). As of late, he's been one of the more reliable starters on the club and is certainly to be praised for his amazing turnaround. If he is not going to be available, a bullpen game is one conceivable option, perhaps with Francis coming up to function as a multi-inning reliever instead of a traditional starter. But the truth is that there's no true replacement for Kikuchi in the system. The fact remains, if Manoah had swallowed his pride and gotten a few (successful) Triple-A outings under his belt, he'd be sitting pretty right now.