St. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The case for pushing Alek Manoah back a day in the rotation to give him some extra rest ahead of not only his start Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, but also the following Friday against the Boston Red Sox is pretty clear.
At 183.2 innings and counting, the 24-year-old has blown past his previous career high of 129.2 established last season, a workload spike that came after the pandemic limited him to alternate training site outings in 2020 on the heels of 125.1 frames in 2019 .
Sure, pushing him back a day means he’ll miss the New York Yankees next week in Toronto. But with the AL East crown all but officially Bronx bound, better to optimize Manoah for the final stretch of the regular season and the potential playoffs beyond.
“He’s a guy that we want to be strong throughout the post-season,” said pitching coach Pete Walker. “It’s kind of uncharted territory for Alek at this time of year and the amount of innings that he’s thrown, so we want to make sure he’s as fresh as possible… I think it’s going to enhance his stuff a little bit and maybe give him a little bit better speed early in the game. That’s (what) we’re hoping for.”
Now, the extra day also puts Manoah on turn for the regular-season finale in Baltimore and it’s here where intrigue lies. If he pitches in that game — something interim manager John Schneider said would “absolutely” be worthwhile if home-field advantage in the wild-card round were on the line — he wouldn’t be available for the subsequent first-round series.
On the flip side, if the Blue Jays chose to start him Friday, he’d be in line to pitch the penultimate game of the season against the Orioles and could return in time to start the third game of a wild-card series, if necessary.
For the time being, the discussion is academic. But that Schneider didn’t hesitate in saying he’d pitch Manoah in the regular-season finale rather than save him for the playoffs underlines the value the Blue Jays see in hosting the single-site, best-of-three, wild-card round.
“Home field would be great,” said Schneider. “There would be nothing better than playing in front of our fans in the post-season after the last couple of years, after we haven’t been there and what the world and country has been through. That would definitely be reasonable to want to play that series at home knowing that we have three really good other starters.”
The Blue Jays entered Friday’s play with no significant difference between their record at home (43-32) and on the road (41-33). But the post-season can be a different animal entirely, with the possibility of tacking on two or three more road games to the end of the Baltimore trip, with two more games at the division series host should they survive the first round.
That’s a lot of ass to haul in a compressed, pressure-packed stretch.
“At that point you do what you’ve got to do and it’s a fun road trip no matter what, no matter how long it is,” said Schneider. “Stakes are a little bit different, obviously. But if you can kind of dictate it and know that you’re going to be home for at least two, hopefully only two, that’d be great and be a little bit easier burden-wise traveling and not getting in late and all of that stuff.”
Another dynamic is the raucous environment Blue Jays fans have created during post-season games at Rogers Center, something Walker experienced during the playoff runs in 2015 and ’16.
He believes the environment “really did” make a difference for those teams, which cumulatively went 6-5 at home in those two post-seasons.
“I was trying to explain to these guys the volume and the loudness of the fans at certain moments throughout the course of those years in 15, 16 in the playoffs,” said Walker. “It was just incredible, something I’ve never forgotten and it’s an experience that I want these guys to feel. That’s (what) we’re hopeful for. We want to get home, we want to have home games in the playoffs and that’s our goal. I think they’re in for a treat when they get that moment.”
Whether it’s worth ruling Manoah out of the wild-card round to get is an interesting debate, one that may not even be pertinent by the time the Oct. 5 final arrivals.
What’s indisputable is that doing what’s best for Manoah, which also benefits the rest of the rotation by getting them each an extra day before their final turns, is paramount.
“If you can capitalize on two (extra days) as opposed to one of them or none of them, that was probably the best bet right now for him and for us. That went into the thinking for sure,” said Schneider. “He’s checking every box in terms of being ready and staying prepared in between. He’s had an extra day a few times, but just trying to take advantage of it at this time of year.”
Added Walker: “There are a lot of different directions you can go with the rotation from this point forward. And we chose to give Alek an extra day, and actually the other guys wound up getting an extra day too. I’m more concerned with the next week, but we are setting ourselves up to make those decisions when they come.”