With Yariel Rodriguez injured, all eyes are on Alek Manoah

“His stuff was electric,” manager John Schneider said. “The stuff looked really, really good.”
Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays
Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays / Kevin Sousa/GettyImages

The Toronto Blue Jays have placed fifth starter Yariel Rodríguez on the 15-day injured list due to thoracic spine inflammation. That exposes a serious lack of starting pitching depth, with Bowden Francis and Ricky Tiedemann also on the IL.

The 27-year-old Rodríguez has a 0-1 record, 4.11 ERA and 16 strikeouts over four starts and 15.1 innings pitched. Although combined with Bowden Francis’ 0-2 record and 12.96 ERA in only 8.1 innings in his two starts, the fifth starter’s turn in the rotation hasn’t been good this year: 0-3 with a 7.22 ERA in 23.2 innings over six starts.

Manoah to the rescue?

Paging 2022 AL Cy Young Finalist Alex Manoah, the Blue Jays need you to revert to your 24-year-old form. The now 26-year-old righty has struggled mightily since Opening Day in 2023, posting a 5.87 ERA in only 19 starts and 87.1 innings last year. He’s made four rehab starts now at Triple-A in 2024, with a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings for the Buffalo Bisons.

The marquee Triple-A pitching matchup last night between Manoah and 2023 1st overall amateur draft pick and the current top pitching prospect in baseball Paul Skenes was must watch TV for Blue Jays fans, especially given it was a the MiLB free ‘Game of the Day’.

Skenes lowered his Triple-A ERA to only 0.39, but in a very positive development, Manoah was also dealing, with 12 punch outs and only two hits and one run allowed in six innings in Indianapolis. The 12 K’s tie his professional career high.

“I just want to see his pitch count be where it should be,” Schneider said before the game Tuesday. “If it’s 90 to 100 pitches, hopefully the innings match up to that because his stuff is where we think it should be and it just needs to be in the zone.”

With all those eyes on him, Manoah definitely rose to the occasion: he threw 92 pitches, 62 for strikes, over six strong innings for the Bisons. As baseball columnist Mike Wilner of the Toronto Star wrote, “Does it mean he’s back to his Cy Young finalist form of 2022? Heck no. But it means that the search for a fifth starter likely stops with him. This time.”

After a quick briefing on Manoah’s work following Tuesday’s game, Schneider said, “His stuff was electric. When everyone asks what we were looking for from Alek, that was it and maybe even a little bit more. Just getting into the part of game where he should with the pitch count where it was. The stuff looked really, really good.”

The Blue Jays front office will have to make a decision quickly on Manoah given his 30-day rehab assignment ends next Monday. Either he’ll take the ball one more time for Buffalo, or he’s lined up to potentially take Rodríguez’s next turn in the big league rotation, which would be Sunday, May 5th in Washington against the Nationals.

His pitching line Tuesday couldn’t have come at a better time given the Blue Jays have a run of 26 games in 27 days starting on May 17th, and play 23 games in 24 days leading up to the All-Star break in mid-July; they’ll likely need Manoah to take a regular turn in the rotation with Francis and Y-Rod out.

The other short term option would be to use a combination of Trevor Richards, Zach Pop and Nate Pearson in an opener/bulk innings strategy. Richards made three starts as an opener in 2023, and with the departures of Mitch White and Wes Parsons, and injuries to Francis and Chad Green, that might be the next best available option if Manoah can’t pick up the slack.

Top pitching prospects like Tiedemann and Chad Dallas don’t seem like near term options either, so hopefully after Manoah showed us his moxy last night, and with some urgency on finding a fifth starter to step up, the door is now wide open for him to walk back into Toronto’s rotation.