Demotions can be demoralizing in professional baseball, but often times, it is the best thing that can happen to a player.
After a tumultuous start (1-7 – 6.36 ERA) to the 2023 season, the Toronto Blue Jays optioned former WVU pitcher Alek Manoah to the Florida Complex League (FCL), an instructional league within Major League Baseball’s minor league system, just over a month ago. It is traditionally the home of young, first-year players immediately after being drafted. It can also be a rehab site for injured big leagues.
“It was a tough day for me,” Manoah told reporters after his return to the majors. “I feel like I’ve done a ton to earn where I’ve gotten, and when you get that taken away from you, you’re going to hate a lot of things. But like I said, you can lay down and stay down and let everybody be right, or you can continue to fight and continue to have purpose and continue to work hard and continue to trust the process.”
The former first rounder and Cy Young finalist spent almost a full month in the Blue Jays minor-league system before returning to the big leagues.
His first outing in the minors was rocky, to say the least, allowing 11 earned runs off 10 hits in 2.2 innings pitched against the FCL Yankees.
“Not at one point through this whole thing was I ready to give up, or did I not think I would pitch in the big leagues again,” he said. “I was just looking forward to grinding every day, working hard every day, and knowing that we were going to get it right, and just continue to build off of it.”
One of the main reasons Manoah was sent down was to tweak some of his mechanics. He admitted that he fell into some bad habits fundamentally, such as tilting off the side of the mound upon delivery, while chasing wins after a slow start to the season.
Control issues followed.
“You really don’t have to think about strike percentage when you trust the work and you trust the mechanics and all that stuff,” he said. “I think, you know, my first pitch-strike percentage was a little down basically the whole year.
The self-analysis and diagnosis of his flawed delivery and release went a long way during his minor-league stint. Manoah and the Blue Jays knew what to correct, and they didn’t take long to make necessary tweaks.
He only made one more start in the minors, a five-inning, 10-strikeout, one-hit gem in Double-A New Hampshire.
Five days later, he made his return to the majors in strong fashion. He pitched six complete innings and recorded a season-high eight strikeouts in a 12-2 win over the Tigers.
“I thought he was really good between delivery, his tempo, and just kind of overall,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider told reporters after Manoah’s start against Detroit. “It was good to have the big fella back in the dugout…[I am] just happy for him. [I am] proud of the way he handled the last month, and put the work in. And I know he’s thrilled to be back here.”
Not that he necessarily needed it, but Manoah was able to take another breath this week as MLB paused for all-star festivities. The Blue Jays return to action Friday night at home against the Diamondbacks to start a three-game series.
Toronto is yet to announce their probable pitchers for the series, but it’s safe to assume that Manoah will make a start at some point.
As for the Blue Jays, their patience is paying off.
“They’ve stuck with me through it all, and they’ve all contacted me and supported me through everything,” he said. “[I am] just super happy to be back with them and be able to help them on our journey.”