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Blue Jays demote former ace Alek Manoah to rookie-level Florida Complex League

Toronto’s righty is coming off his worst start of what’s been a disastrous 2023 season, getting pulled in the first inning in a loss to the Houston Astros on Monday.

Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on from the mound against the Houston Astros in the first inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on June 5, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

After two excruciating months, Alek Manoah’s 2023 season appears to have finally hit rock bottom. A day after the big righty put up his worst start of the year, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that they’re sending him down to the rookie-level Florida Complex League. Fellow right-hander Bowden Francis was called up in a corresponding move, although it’s unclear whether he’ll be taking Manoah’s spot in the rotation.

Manoah was shelled yet again on Monday, coughing up six runs on seven hits and a walk while recording just a single out in a loss to the Houston Astros. It was the sixth time already this year that he’d given up at least five runs in a start — raising his ERA to a disastrous 6.36 on the season — and in the aftermath questions began to swirl about whether Manoah would remain in Toronto’s rotation moving forward. Those questions got even louder when manager John Schneider seemed to leave open the possibility of drastic measures.

“We’ve got to continue to do what’s best for him to help him get better,” Schneider told reporters Monday night. “When I say that everything is on the table, yeah, everything is. We’re just trying to help him get back to the caliber of pitcher that he was.”

It turns out that what’s best for Manoah is starting from scratch. The FCL is the lowest level of the Minors, typically populated by teenagers making their pro debuts. The assignment signals that the Jays aren’t viewing this as a matter of simply regaining confidence — SportsNet reports that the plan is for the righty to throw a bullpen session in front of the team’s coaching staff and pitching technology to assess where he’s at mechanically, then go from there. Which, given Manoah’s 48/42 K/BB rate this season, seems more than justified.

It’s still a stunning fall for a player who looked like one of the game’s bright young stars just a few months ago. Manoah was sensational in 2022, going 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA over 196.2 innings en route to his first All-Star nod and a third-place finish in AL Cy Young Award voting. But he’s fallen apart this year, particularly his command, as his walk rate has jumped from 6.5% to 14.9% — and when he does find the strike zone, he’s catching way too much of the plate.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that 1) Toronto has been playing very well of late despite Manoah’s struggles, with seven wins in their last 10 and 2) there’s historical precedent for a young pitcher bouncing back from this kind of demotion. In fact, there’s precedent with this very same franchise: In 2001, Roy Halladay was sent back down to the low Minors after putting up a 10.64 ERA in 2000. Halladay fixed his mechanics in Florida, returned to the Majors by July and put up a 3.16 ERA the rest of the way — the first step on a path that would eventually lead him to two Cy Young Awards and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It’s still far too early to know what the future holds for Manoah, but here’s hoping he can carve out a similar path.