TORONTO — It’s no surprise that Alek Manoah pushed to stay in the game even after being hit in the elbow by a comeback at 93 mph.
The Blue Jays right-hander All-Star came close to a nightmare scenario on Friday, when he was forced to leave his team’s 4-2 loss to the Tigers with a bruised right elbow 87 shots into his outing. But Manoah’s precautionary x-rays came back negative, and it’s unlikely he’ll have to miss a start.
In fact, as he told Blue Jays coach Jose Ministral, the 24-year-old was ready to continue pitching the sixth inning at Rogers Center.
“He said, ‘Are you crazy? ‘” Manoah said after the game of his interaction with Ministral. “…I honestly didn’t even think I needed the x-ray, but they wanted to do it [as a precaution]. Everything was negative, everything is clean, so I’ll get back on the horse and I’ll be back in five days.
Manoah told reporters that his immediate reaction to carrying Jonathan Schoop’s understudy on his arm was more shock than actual pain.
He brought his left hand to his elbow and grimaced, crouching next to the mound as the defense registered the takedown early. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made a move for Ministral and interim manager John Schneider, who decided to bring in Tim Mayza, ending Manoah’s night at 5 1/3 innings.
“[Mayza] was in place anyway and we were kind of going in that direction,” Schneider said of his decision to remove Manoah. “He’s competitive as hell and he wanted to stay, but it was a pretty easy decision to take him out just to be safe.”
The hallmark of the Blue Jays is to exercise caution with their stars.
Manoah’s early exit came on a night when Toronto took the field without two of its biggest stars in George Springer and Bo Bichette, both facing discomfort after a high-impact first game in the series against the Tigers. Bichette hit a two-out pinch shot in the ninth, lining up sharply on center field to end the game, but his absence — and Springer’s — was costly throughout the game.
The Blue Jays offense collected just four hits from Tigers pitchers in an outing that might as well have been the showcase for a parade of relievers on the trading block — many of them, like Michael Fulmer and Will Vest, would fit like a glove for the home team.
Although Manoah didn’t have his “cleanest outing”, as Schneider later put it, he kept his team in the game despite the lukewarm offensive night. He struck out four Tigers batters and allowed four earned runs, including a solo shot on Willi Castro.
“We’re keeping it pretty high,” Schneider said. “I don’t think his stuff was as sharp as it was, and that happens in a long season. But he was good. I’m not going to put anything more than that. He was good. I think we expect him to dominate most of the time, but it was kind of just one of those nights for him.
Like several other teams this year, the Tigers loaded up on left-handed hitters against Manoah, whose spreads show that’s an area for improvement. Tough matchups coupled with inconsistent command of the two- and four-seam fastballs made it a rare night off for Manoah.
He wanted to continue, but respected the coaching staff’s decision to withdraw him.
“Someone has to be the smartest, you know,” Manoah joked. “It was a good time to get me out, and the bullpen did a great job.”
While the organization let out a collective sigh of relief at the negative X-rays, the fear of Manoah’s injury came at an intriguing time.
Southpaw Yusei Kikuchi made a solid 15-day IL comeback on Thursday, which ostensibly gave the Blue Jays some clarity on their rotation ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. But Friday’s scene recalled Kevin Gausman’s lost time after being hit in the ankle by a comeback, and came moments before coveted starter Luis Castillo was packing his bags for Seattle.
There is no need to panic. But every loss, injury and rival trade should intensify the Blue Jays’ urgency to act.