'He's earned it': Blue Jays' Alek Manoah set for MLB return against Tigers

Alek Manoah's stint in the minors is over, as the demoted Blue Jays ace will return to the mound Friday night in Detroit.

Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Alek Manoah will make his anticipated return to the mound on Friday against the Detroit Tigers.

After manager John Schneider announced the news earlier this week, the Blue Jays made it official Friday afternoon, recalling Manoah from Double-A New Hampshire and placing right-hander Jay Jackson on the paternity list.

Manoah was demoted all the way down to the Florida Complex League on June 6 after posting a 6.36 ERA in 13 starts at the MLB level in 2023. He made two starts in the minors, getting shelled for 11 runs in his FCL outing on June 27 before faring much better in a one-run, 10-strikeout performance with Double-A New Hampshire on Sunday.

"I'm fired up for him. He's worked really hard and he's earned it," Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told TSN 1050's OverDrive on Thursday.

Whether or not Manoah is fully ready to return to an MLB mound remains to be seen, but Sportsnet's Shi Davidi reported the 25-year-old's fastball was sitting at 93 mph in Sunday's game and the 2019 first-round draft pick was feeling ready to help the Blue Jays win.

Still, Manoah walked three batters over five innings and threw only 47 of his 82 pitches for strikes. His lack of command was one of the biggest reasons for his demotion, as he was walking 6.5 batters per nine innings in his 13 MLB games (anything higher than 4.0 is considered "awful," per FanGraphs).

"It really came down to where and how he was releasing his pitches," Atkins said when asked about the underlying issues they discovered at the team's pitching lab in Dunedin. "And then you peel back and say, 'OK, how is he getting to that point,' and we were able to see some very small differences that you wouldn't pick up with your naked eye.

"What we hope is that the lab has helped us to discover is that we found the reason that we saw all those subtle differences in the delivery and how he was getting to his release point."

Alek Manoah is rejoining the Blue Jays for their weekend series in Detroit. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Alek Manoah is rejoining the Blue Jays for their weekend series in Detroit. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Beyond the progress Manoah made with his mechanics, Atkins said the biggest factor in the decision to recall the big righty is that he gives the team the best chance to win.

"In the end, we felt very good about the work that he had put in," Atkins said. "The next piece of the equation was what's the best environment for him to be in. We (mutually) decided that the next step was for him to be in the major leagues."

The Tigers represent a soft landing spot for Manoah, as they rank third-worst in the majors in both batting average and runs per game. Detroit is also a popular destination for travelling Blue Jays fans, so Manoah could get a lift from the crowd despite it being a road start.

It's unrealistic to expect Manoah to return to the form that made him an All-Star and American League Cy Young finalist in 2022, but his presence could still be a major boost for a Blue Jays team that has underperformed through the first half of the season.

The Blue Jays have mainly been using a four-man rotation in Manoah's absence, with Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi picking up the slack. Reliever Trevor Richards has chipped in to lead bullpen days when necessary.