‘It sucks’: Blue Jays’ Manoah must wait for MRI after early exit

Isiah Kiner-Falefa drove in two runs and Trevor Richards pitched three and one-third scoreless innings out of the bullpen to help the Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Chicago White Sox 3-1 and earn their first series sweep of the season.

CHICAGO — The conversation with Alek Manoah once manager John Schneider reached the mound didn’t even last 15 seconds before the right-hander and head trainer Jose Ministral headed for the dugout.

They were all on alert for trouble as five days ago, Manoah emerged from his start against the Detroit Tigers with some discomfort in his right elbow. A couple days of treatment and a bullpen session without issue had set him up to start Wednesday night. But his velocity was down and on his 24th pitch, after he’d told himself to really let it loose, he ripped off a 91.4-m.p.h., glove-side sinker that caused the area to feel “really pinchy.”

So out he came, off to see a Chicago White Sox doctor who ran him through some tests. While he made no formal diagnosis, “he just said it seems more muscular than anything,” Manoah relayed. “But because of the area that it’s in, there’s always a worry that it’s a ligament.” He’ll get an MRI on Thursday that should paint a more complete picture. 

Until then, pins and needles for Manoah and the Toronto Blue Jays, who went on to a 3-1 win over the White Sox that completed their first sweep in this wayward season. For a 26-29 club already trying to overcome 99 problems, they very suddenly can no longer say the starting rotation ain’t one.

“Yeah, it sucks,” an emotional Manoah said of processing the spectrum of possibilities for his elbow. “But I have my faith in God and I dealt with a lot of (expletive) this past year to get back to this point. And the game’s tough, you know?”

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No doubt, and the Blue Jays have been reminded of that time and again during a start where so little has gone to plan. Now, just they’ve began to show sustained signs of life at the plate over the past couple of weeks, they can’t afford Manoah’s absence, especially as he’s shown flashes of his dominant past self. 

Another complication is that Chris Bassitt was touch-and-go to make his start Monday night due to neck spasms and since then he’s walked the clubhouse with the area wrapped to alleviate the issue. If he needs to miss a start, with Manoah seemingly headed for a stint on the injured list, well, the Blue Jays simply don’t have the depth to handle that.

Bowden Francis — who is building toward a return to the bullpen and on Tuesday threw 60 pitches over 3.2 innings, allowing one unearned run while striking out five in a rehab outing with triple-A Buffalo — is the obvious next man up and Schneider mentioned him as an option.

One possibility is that the Blue Jays pair him with Trevor Richards — who took over for Manoah in the second and allowed just a hit and a walk in 3.1 shutout innings before 11,599 at Guaranteed Rate Field — to form a loose piggyback. That’s something they did a year ago while Manoah was in triple-A trying to figure out his struggles.

Richards, the bullpen’s Swiss Army Knife, said he’s “down for whatever. If they need me for one, I’m good for one. If they need multiple, I’m good for multiple. Whatever the phone says, that’s what I’ll do.”

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Paolo Espino, the mix-and-match specialist who was up earlier this year to soak up some innings, is another option on the 40-man roster. Yariel Rodriguez is due to throw another rehab outing Friday and the Blue Jays could accelerate his return afterwards, while top prospect Ricky Tiedemann, sidelined since April 11 due to nerve inflammation in his left elbow, threw a bullpen Tuesday in Dunedin, Fla., and needs more game action before he’s a realistic possibility.

“We’ll see,” said Schneider. “We’ll see how it goes the first time through, see how Yariel goes his next outing and go from there. But there are definitely a few options and a few routes we can take.”

None is clear and easy, which ups the ante around Manoah’s status. His return to the majors timed with Rodriguez’s thoracic spine inflammation and his back-to-back consecutive quality starts May 12 and 19 raised hopes he’d found himself and was ready to provide a boost.

The Blue Jays felt he was better than his line showed Friday in Detroit and Manoah, in spite of everything, seemed to be on one Tuesday, with three strikeouts through 1.2 innings. Then he yanked a 91.4 m.p.h. sinker to Dominic Fletcher, winced and was quickly attended to on the mound from there.

“I feel like I was just guarding it through my warm-ups and that first inning and even a little bit in that second inning,” said Manoah. “That last pitch I kind of told myself, don’t guard it. I tried to throw an extension-side fastball. My elbow, I guess, got full extension and it felt pinchy.”

Richards finished out that second inning, Bo Bichette’s RBI single in the third opened the scoring, Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s RBI single in the fourth added on and his fielder’s choice in the sixth further padded the margin, while the bullpen did the rest to complete a sweep needed after three losses in four games in Detroit.

“I was just trying to be in the zone a little more, make sure I’m attacking a little more,” said Richards. “And to be honest, they helped that. They were swinging early and often and I feel like they were swinging at the first fastball they got. For me, it’s just going after them, understanding the game situation and seeing what we can do.”

With an off-day Thursday before the Pittsburgh Pirates arrive Friday, the strain on the bullpen won’t be an issue this time. But it will be next time, and the time after that for a Blue Jays team already deep in the fight simply to get back to level.

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