Five Blue Jays Thoughts: Could Triple-A be Alek Manoah’s new home, Yariel Rodríguez has the “it” factor, and more

Photo credit:James P. McCoy
Ethan Diamandas
11 days ago
The Blue Jays have won three games in a row, pushing the club above .500 for the first time since Opening Day. The bats aren’t quite there yet, but a few quality starts and some excellent late-inning relief work have stoked some momentum for Toronto.
It’s a long season ahead, but here are five thoughts on this last week in Blue Jays baseball.

Rodríguez has the “it” factor

I can’t tell what it is with Blue Jays right-hander Yariel Rodríguez, but I’m fascinated. Maybe it’s the blue-green eyes and big smile. Maybe it’s his swaggy demeanour or his Japanese-style delivery and excellent strikeout stuff.
The 27-year-old is a great addition to the back end of the Jays rotation, and he quickly made an excellent impression at Rogers Centre. In his first career start Saturday, the Cuban worked 3.2 innings, allowing four hits and one run, and striking out six Rockies batters. Rodríguez’s fastball has crazy zip (averaging 95.5 mph), and he generated seven whiffs on his sharp slider.
I definitely wanted to see Bowden Francis get more than two starts, but baseball waits for no one, and talent is king. Rodríguez is the Blue Jays best option every five days, and it’ll be exciting to witness his next outing versus the Padres Friday.

Could Triple-A be Alek Manoah’s new home?

Rodríguez’s slick outing puts Alek Manoah’s role on this squad even more in jeopardy. Manoah pitched in Triple-A Saturday, going 3.1 innings and surrendering eight hits and four runs. On the bright side, he had only one walk and four strikeouts. Still, that start didn’t inspire much confidence. The 26-year-old will presumably see at least one or two more outings in Buffalo, but then what?
If Rodríguez has a chokehold on the fifth-starter spot, there’s no place for Manoah. It would be unusually cruel to toss him into the bullpen, forcing him to learn a new routine as he’s struggling to figure himself out. Toronto must now play a waiting game. MLB allows 30 days of rehab time for pitchers, leaving the Jays until May 7 to decide on the big right-hander.
Injuries could make this decision easy. If Kevin Gausman, for example, needs an IL stint for shoulder fatigue, the Jays could take a chance with Manoah (though I imagine Francis is still above him in the pecking order for now). If everyone is healthy, Manoah could be optioned to Triple-A. He won’t like that, but, as I said, baseball waits for no one.

What’s up with Kevin Gausman?

Gausman finished third in AL Cy Young voting a season ago. He now has an 11.57 ERA through three starts in 2024. So far, the right-hander’s fastball has averaged 93.4 mph, a career-low velocity most comparable to his 2018-2019 days, when he posted a 4.56 ERA and was DFA’d by the Braves.
It’s too small a sample size to determine whether a massive regression is on its way, but opposing hitters are mashing Gausman’s fastball (.409 BA, .773 SLG). This is an ugly baseline for a two-pitch pitcher. At the same time, the whiff rate on Gausman’s splitter has sunk to a career-low 36.4%.
Wednesday’s outing versus the Yankees will either ease or amplify Blue Jays fans’ concerns. Even if José Berríos emerges as the new ace, Toronto needs Gausman to play to its full potential.

Danny Jansen’s long-awaited return

After nearly three weeks on the injured list, Danny Jansen will be in the lineup Tuesday to catch Kikuchi. The Blue Jays have missed him badly.
In my opinion, Alejandro Kirk has fared quite well defensively in Jansen’s absence, handling the whole pitching staff and throwing out five of 14 base-stealers (36% CS). In reality, Kirk isn’t built to catch 14 of the club’s first 17 games. He needs more rest, and the 25-year-old’s offence has suffered due to his workload.
Enter Jansen. He’ll add much-needed pop to the middle tier of Toronto’s order and help keep Kirk fresh. Jansen went 4-for-13 with a homer and six RBIs during his rehab stint in Buffalo, proving he’s ready to join the Jays and start bangin’ right away.

Kevin Kiermaier needs and off-day or two

Kevin Kiermaier looks lost at the plate right now. The 33-year-old has started his season 6-for-42 with only one extra-base hit and 17 strikeouts. He’s in the fifth percentile or lower in basically all major Statcast measurements except chase rate and walk rate.
The eye test supports the metrics. He’s scrambled at the plate, chasing breaking balls or way late on fastballs. The game is moving too fast on Kiermaier, and he would benefit from multiple off days. Let’s see Davis Schneider in left field for a few games and Daulton Varsho (who homered twice last series) in center field.

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