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Toronto Blue Jays send struggling right-hander Alek Manoah down to minors

TORONTO — Four baseball gloves rested on the top shelf of Alek Manoah's clubhouse locker at Rogers Centre on Tuesday afternoon, his garments on a rack below with his black chair in its usual position nearby.
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) reacts on the mound while playing against the Houston Astros during first inning American League MLB baseball action in Toronto on Monday, June 5, 2023. The Jays are sending Manoah down to the minors after his latest disappointing start. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

TORONTO — Four baseball gloves rested on the top shelf of Alek Manoah's clubhouse locker at Rogers Centre on Tuesday afternoon, his garments on a rack below with his black chair in its usual position nearby. 

The only things missing were the baby blue jersey and matching ballcap that were hanging at each of his teammates' stalls ahead of Toronto's night game against Houston.

The Blue Jays sent Manoah down to the minor leagues earlier in the day. It was unclear when he'll be back. 

The right-hander was optioned to the rookie-level Florida Complex League after another poor start a night earlier. 

"It's not a knee-jerk reaction," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. "Like I've been saying all along, we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help him get better. 

"We feel like that's the proper, first initial step."

Manoah's latest start was the shortest outing of his young career. He was shelled for six earned runs over one-third of an inning in an 11-4 loss to the Astros.

The six-foot-six 285-pounder hasn't won a game in over two months and his confidence appears shot. The Blue Jays have lost nine of the last 10 games that Manoah has started.

Schneider and pitching coach Pete Walker gave him the news early Tuesday afternoon.

"It wasn't an easy conversation," Schneider said. "He understands that the performance hasn't really been there and he just really wants to help the team be in a position to win. 

"So he took it about as good as he can take it."

This is new territory for the Opening Day starter, an American League Cy Young Award finalist last year but just 1-7 with an eyebrow-raising earned-run average of 6.36 this season.

The all-star form he displayed in 2022 has been replaced by inconsistency and a lack of control. Manoah leads the major leagues with 42 walks over his 13 starts.

The thinking was that Manoah would be best served by working with team staff at the player development complex in Dunedin, Fla., Schneider said. 

He'll spend time in the pitching lab there and use the facility's many resources.

"It's tough when you're telling a guy who's had so much success that that's where we landed," Schneider said. "He's a big part of our team and I think that we have to really just get him right."

Almost two dozen media members packed Schneider's office for his pre-game media availability, which came about a half-hour after the Blue Jays announced the move.

The MLB Network was muted on the two television monitors in the room. Panellists were discussing the Manoah demotion as the Toronto skipper took questions.

"I fully expect him to tackle this head-on like he does everything else," Schneider said.

Now 25, Manoah was drafted 11th overall in 2019. After 35 innings at the minor-league level, he made the jump to the big leagues in 2021 and excelled.

Manoah finished eighth in rookie of the year voting after posting a 9-2 record and 3.22 ERA over 20 starts.

He blossomed into an all-star the following year and became an anchor in the Toronto rotation. He went 16-7 with a sparkling 2.24 ERA last season and finished third in Cy Young voting.

Considered the staff ace at the start of this season, Manoah earned his lone win on April 5 against the Kansas City Royals. 

Things started to unravel at the end of that month. Manoah hasn't made it past the sixth inning in any of his starts over the last six weeks. 

The West Virginia University product has looked lost on the mound, sapped of the swagger that he displayed in his first two big-league seasons. 

He was booed by home fans after his latest appearance and Schneider was cheered when he came out of the dugout to replace him.

Manoah will get a chance to reset in Florida and work on his mindset and delivery.

"We're confident that when he is himself, he's still going to be a huge part of what we're trying to do," Schneider said. "So I think that environment is the right place to start."

The Blue Jays made a number of moves before Tuesday night's game against the Astros.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt was reinstated from the paternity list and infielder Santiago Espinal (hamstring) was reinstated from the 10-day injured list. 

Right-hander Bowden Francis was selected to the major-league roster and infielder Ernie Clement and right-hander Jay Jackson were optioned to Triple-A Buffalo.

Third baseman Matt Chapman was not in the starting lineup. He's considered day to day after having an infected ingrown toenail removed late Monday night. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2023. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press