Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah ready to forget 2023 woes: ‘When you get your butt kicked, you want to start a new year with a fresh slate’

Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Hall
2 months ago
Last season couldn’t have gone any worse for Alek Manoah, who plummeted from a third-place American League Cy Young finish to an unrecognizable version of himself. But the Toronto Blue Jays hurler has a chance to course-correct his fate in 2024.
The 26-year-old right-hander, coming off a miserable campaign in which he posted career worsts across the board, including a 5.87 ERA in 19 starts, and endured two minor-league demotions, took a positive step on Thursday as pitchers and catchers reported to the organization’s Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla.
Manoah, originally listed at 6’6″ and 285 pounds, looked much trimmer – some might even say the best shape of his life – and now sports long hair and a thick beard. Most importantly, though, he seemed to have that fiery confidence back, a crucial element of his on-field presence.
It is, of course, only the first official day of spring training and by no means is Manoah’s work finished. He still has a long way to go on his road to redemption, and this was just the first of many, many tests he’ll need to pass over the next six weeks.
But Manoah is off to a respectable start.
After raising concerns about shoulder and arm soreness before finishing last season on the temporarily inactive list, the 2022 All-Star trained hard to improve his physique over the off-season, which was on full display as he posted numerous workout videos via his Instagram account.
So far, that commitment has paid off during the early days of camp, considering Manoah’s roughly 30 pounds lighter, as TSN’s Scott Mitchell reported. And following a winter reset, he’s hoping his new look will help him get back to kicking butts and taking names rather than having his own handed to him.
“When you get your butt kicked, you want to start a new year with a fresh slate,” Manoah told reporters Thursday, including MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson. “I’m just super excited for the boys this year, and I’m super excited to get after it, to help this year.”
No one can be 100 per cent confident that Manoah – scheduled to speak to reporters on Friday – has truly turned a corner until he steps onto the mound during a live game setting. Even then, there’s only so much you can extract from exhibition contests, where a player’s process typically outweighs their results.
Still, that’s probably as decent of a place as any to start for someone who struggled to adjust to MLB’s pitch clock and endured significant command issues a season ago, causing him to worry more about not throwing balls than attacking the strike zone.
More lies ahead for Manoah than just improving his craft, though. If he’s to bounce back this season, the club’s former ace will also need to repair his strained relationship with the organization. That process seemingly began over the off-season after meeting with skipper John Schneider in Miami last December, as well as keeping in touch with pitching coach Pete Walker.
“Every sign that he’s showing right now up on the mound has been pretty much nails,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said.
Manoah’s redemption story will be the most dominating plotline throughout Toronto’s camp this spring, and rightly so, as he remains their biggest X-factor. He doesn’t have to be the same Cy Young-calibre pitcher he was two seasons ago. But he also can’t afford to put forward a similar showing to his 2023 collapse.
A sweet spot likely lies somewhere in the middle of those two points. Now Manoah has to find it. If he fails, though, that will almost certainly create an opportunity for a group that includes Bowden Francis, Mitch White (out of options), newly-signed Yariel Rodríguez and top prospect Ricky Tiedemann to compete for a rotation spot.
All involved, however, will likely have some varying degree of impact on a Blue Jays’ staff that was among the healthiest and most reliable in baseball last season – two facets that are difficult to replicate from year to year.


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