Blue Jays can’t keep momentum going against Tigers

It was a fall back to earth for Alek Manoah as the righty tossed 4.2 innings, giving up six runs while striking out four as the Detroit Tigers capitalized on the Blue Jays mistakes to get some revenge in a 6-2 win on Friday.

DETROIT – A.J. Hinch was talking about the Detroit Tigers, but his message applies just as easily to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Speaking reporters in the Tigers’ dugout Friday afternoon, Hinch explained why he believes mental resilience goes a long way in baseball – especially when a team is falling short of its own expectations.

“This sport will beat you down with failure, and you’ve got to fight through it,” Hinch said. “It’s going to punch you right in the face.”

While the Tigers and Blue Jays are at different points in their competitive cycles, both have endured their share of frustration early this season. And, to roll with Hinch’s metaphor, it was the Blue Jays’ turn to endure a punch in the face on Friday.

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They lost 6-2, on a night Alek Manoah wasn’t especially sharp and the Blue Jays’ hitters had no answers for soft-tossing right-hander Kenta Maeda. A win would have given the Blue Jays a three game winning streak for just the second time all season, but instead they fell to 23-27.

“It was one of those games I just never got into a rhythm,” Manoah said. “I was just battling to make good pitches and keep us in the ballgame.”

With better defence behind him, Manoah’s final pitching line would have looked better, but the Tigers scored two unearned runs in the fourth inning after Kevin Kiermaier cut in front of Daulton Varsho on a Matt Vierling fly ball to left-centre field, causing Varsho’s concentration to break just long enough for the ball to drop. Kiermaier was charged with an error on the play, which would have been a relatively easy one on a team whose centre fielder had less range.

“You’ve got two elite outfielders going after it,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “It’s very rare for those guys to miscommunicate. It’s the best outfield in major-league baseball, so it’s just one of those balls that was in a perfect spot for (the Tigers).”

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Regardless, Manoah had a chance to pick up his teammates and hold the Tigers to a 3-0 lead. Instead, Manoah hit Colt Keith with a pitch to score another run, extending the Tigers’ lead to four.

The next inning, Kerry Carpenter would send a hanging change-up over the right field wall for a two-run homer that chased Manoah from the game. By then, the right-hander had allowed six runs, of which four were earned, on five hits. 

“It’s going to sound a little funny, but I thought he threw the ball well,” Schneider said. “It was a weird inning, and uncharacteristic of us defensively, but I thought overall Alek was better than what the line shows, for sure.”

All told, Manoah walked two while striking out four and throwing 97 pitches (60 strikes). Both home runs he allowed came on change-ups that caught too much of the plate, with Keith connecting for his first MLB homer in the second inning.

“I’ve got to continue to work on the command of (the change-up),” Manoah said. “Continue to attack it and get it down and continue to trust it. It’s been a great pitch for me and I know they hit two homers off it, but it is what it is.” 

It certainly wasn’t a disaster start, but this outing wasn’t nearly as encouraging as the gems Manoah had put together in his previous two outings against the Twins and Rays. If there was a positive, it was that he continued throwing all four of his pitches, generating multiple whiffs on all four.

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Still, with four starts to his name in 2024, Manoah’s clearly trending in the right direction.

“It’s a results-based business and his results have been really, really good,” fellow starter Chris Bassitt remarked Friday afternoon. “The more good results he has, the more confidence he has as he builds back to what he was.”

Now, a six-run deficit could have been overcome if the Blue Jays’ lineup had another big night, but after scoring nine runs three times this week, they managed nothing until the ninth inning, when they scored two against Andrew Chafin. Maeda’s fastball sits below 90 m.p.h. and the league was batting .381 with an .857 slugging percentage against it entering play, but he mixed and matched enough to keep Toronto’s hitters off-balance.

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So, what little momentum the Blue Jays were building stalls for the time being, with Jose Berrios tasked with delivering a better result Saturday. For now, the Blue Jays still have time, but the schedule doesn’t get much better than this current stretch against the White Sox and Tigers. Best to bank wins while they can.

With that in mind, each loss against a sub-.500 team represents a missed opportunity to get back into contention. Yet in baseball, few will recommend dwelling on those losses for too long.

“We can’t ride the roller coaster of emotion – especially when we’re down,” Hinch said. “This sport doesn’t help you by making it easier.”

Or, as Manoah put it: “The last pitch doesn’t really matter, you’ve got to focus on making the next pitch the best one.”

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