Manoah’s continued struggles highlight Blue Jays’ starting pitching depth concerns

“Not ideal… it wasn’t the next step forward that we were hoping for.”
Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Guardians
Toronto Blue Jays v Cleveland Guardians / Lauren Leigh Bacho/GettyImages

The Blue Jays starting rotation has had a pretty, pretty good start to the current season, pitching to a 3.65 ERA through games Thursday, which ranks 6th in MLB. José Berríos ranks top five amongst all starters on both innings pitched (36.2) and ERA (1.23), with a 4-1 record in 6 starts.

Bumpy starts by presumptive ace Kevin Gausman and ‘Hound’ Chris Bassitt have been glossed over by the brilliance of Berríos, and a supremely confident Yusei Kikuchi, who has a sparkling 2.28 ERA and 2.56 FIP in five starts, covering 27.2 innings.

The fifth starter’s turn has been taken by an emerging ‘feel good’ story in 27-year-old free agent Cuban righty Yariel Rodríguez, who has 15 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA in 11.2 innings through the first three MLB starts of his career.

Manoah’s continued struggles

However, the continued struggles of 2022 AL Cy Young finalist Alek Manoah highlights the ongoing concerns about starting pitch depth, especially after the trades of Mitch White and Wes Parsons, as well as the serious injury concerns with top prospect Ricky Tiedemann, as well as with right-hander Bowden Francis, who was just placed on the injured list with right forearm extensor tendinitis.

Manoah’s fourth rehab start on Wednesday did not go well: 88 pitches, walking 4 of the 19 batters he faced, and allowing 7 hits, 2 home runs and 6 earned runs in just 3 innings. As Blue Jays manager John Schneider said, “Not ideal. A lot of pitches. I know it’s cold, but it wasn’t the next step forward that we were hoping for.”

Scott Mitchell of TSN was more prophetic via X: “I truly do not know where #BlueJays turn for rotation depth for the next 5 months if they need it.”

That’s been a long simmering concern: if one of the current rotation stalwarts suffers an injury and requires significant time on the injured list, where will the Blue Jays turn? Their minor league depth has been decimated with the Parsons and White departures, plus injuries to top prospects Tiedemann, Jays Journal’s No. 1 ranked prospect, plus No. 5 prospect Brandon Barriera and No. 11 prospect Landen Maroudis.

Manoah doesn’t currently project as likely depth with a 9.00 ERA in his three Triple-A starts with Buffalo, allowing a .389 batting average and .474 BABIP against, with a 2.17 WHIP and 21 hits and 3 home runs allowed in just 12 innings.

So absent a rare early season trade, who is available to fill in when the Jays inevitably need a spot start or two? Or when they have to limit Rodríguez’s innings count given he only pitched a total of 7.1 innings last year, all in the World Baseball Classic in March 2023?

There’s always the ‘opener’ strategy, with Nate Pearson and Trevor Richards as likely candidates for either the opener or bulk roles. The minor leagues don’t offer much solace unfortunately: No. 19 prospect Chad Dallas has a 7.85 ERA at Buffalo.

23-year-old Canadian lefty and No. 9 prospect Adam Macko might be next up; he has a 3.07 ERA in 3 starts, with 17 strikeouts in 14.2 innings at Double-A New Hampshire. He’s also already on the 40-man roster, which means the team wouldn’t have to DFA anyone to call him up should they put another pitcher on the IL. Other 40-man starters include Paolo Espino, who has a 4.30 ERA in three starts with Buffalo.

Let’s hope that the extraordinary good health and consistency of the top four Blue Jays starters continues: Gausman, Bassitt, Berríos and Kikuchi have started 149 - or a whopping 79% - of the Blue Jays 188 regular season games played since the start of last season. They’ve combined for an fWAR of 15.4 over that stretch, suggesting they would not be easily replaced regardless of pitching depth. Let’s also hope that Manoah can reverse his fortunes, and find some of his 2022 magic in a bottle.