Alek Manoah was humbled by baseball during the 2023 season, which saw the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2023 Opening Day starter fall off the face of the earth by the end of it. But he doesn’t have to look far to find someone who’s also had to overcome similar adversity in their career.
Kevin Gausman knows all too well about struggling in the major leagues. He spent five and a half seasons doing precisely that with the Baltimore Orioles before being shipped off to the Atlanta Braves in a mid-season trade in 2018. And it wasn’t until he left Cincinnati – where he worked as a reliever – after the 2019 season and ultimately arrived in San Francisco that he unlocked his full potential.
The former Giant overhauled several aspects of his craft, including where and how he utilized his fastball-splitter combination. That allowed him to return to the starting rotation with immense success during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, paving the way for his breakout 2021 campaign.
Gausman was virtually untouchable that year, resulting in his first career All-Star selection as he posted career-highs in strikeouts (227) and innings pitched (192.0). He then parlayed that into a five-year, $110-million contract with the Blue Jays during the ensuing off-season.
None of that, however,
would’ve been possible without his earlier struggles – a message he hopes can help Manoah amid his journey back to the top of the mountain.
“To be honest, I think he went through some things in spring [training],” Gausman said during Thursday’s episode of the Foul Territory Podcast. “I think he got off to a late start physically in spring — his shoulder just wasn’t — listen, the guy pitched almost 200 innings in his first full year as a starting pitcher. I’ve only gotten that close one time in my career.”
▶️ https://t.co/TTEYJogpav pic.twitter.com/xnbxqnhwUc
— Foul Territory (@FoulTerritoryTV) November 9, 2023
Manoah received platelet-rich plasma injections last September after complaining about soreness in his right arm, which ended his 2023 season. But the 25-year-old’s past workload may have been one of the main culprits behind his discomfort.
After being selected 11th overall in 2019, the right-hander tossed just 17.0 innings over six starts before his inaugural campaign in pro ball concluded. Then, without a minor league season in 2020, he was confined to the organization’s alternate training site, where, to his credit, he made significant strides in his development.
The next stage of his growth occurred in the big leagues, as he was promoted out of necessity after just 18.0 innings with triple-A Buffalo in 2021. He then went on to make 20 starts that season, logging 111.2 additional innings before compiling 196.2 the following year, plus another 5.2 in his lone post-season start.
That’s quite the jump for a pitcher just three years removed from playing collegiately.
“When you’re a 24, 25-year-old guy, you don’t necessarily know the impact that’s going to take on your body,” Gausman said. “I think he came in and maybe tried to push it and get ready for Opening Day a little too early and never got into a good spot with his arm and with his mechanics.”
But there may not be a better role model for Manoah to lean on for support than Gausman, who’s endured his fair share of highs and lows across an 11-year MLB career.
“I kind of tell him this game is not easy, everybody is going to go through ups and downs — I’m a prime example of that,” Gausman said of his past struggles. “I’ve been DFA’d before. I’ve been the best pitcher on the best team in baseball. I’ve been the worst pitcher on the worst team in baseball, and I’ve been everything in between.
“I think it helped me to be able to talk to guys and I think they can relate to me a little bit more than maybe most of the aces or the Nos. 1 and 2 on the teams that never went through that.”
Manoah needs to reset this off-season, both mentally and physically, after struggling to a 5.87 ERA while issuing 59 walks over 87.1 innings in 2023, leading to two separate minor-league demotions. His second was far more controversial than his first, as the 2022 All-Star reportedly disagreed with the decision and waited almost a month before reporting to Buffalo.
It appears he remains in good standing with Toronto’s front office, though, as general manager Ross Atkins revealed at this week’s GM Meetings in Arizona that he already has a “strong leg up” on the No. 5 starting job next season.
That could be a bit of posturing on a player whose trade value has plummeted over the last six-plus months. Either way, as currently constructed, the club’s final rotation spot will be up for grabs between Manoah, Mitch White, Wes Parsons and potentially an external addition in 2024.
ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO