Gausman confident Manoah breaks on through to the other side
Veteran righthander recalls his own career low points
Ace starter Kevin Gausman missed his teammate’s departure from the clubhouse, but he has plans to reach out to teammate Alek Manoah, who had been optioned to the Florida Complex League on Tuesday. It was mid-afternoon that day that Kevin Gausman arrived at Rogers Centre ahead of his own start against the Astros. He had missed the sudden and unexpected news of the demotion for Manoah, told in an emotional meeting with manager John Schneider and pitching mentor Pete Walker that his services at the major-league level were no longer required. In a career with very little in the way of wobble, this had to be a low point for the 25-year-old Manoah.
It was a couple of days later before Game 4 of the series and Gausman had not yet had the opportunity to talk to or text his younger teammate, but when he does he promises nothing but support and encouragement for a fallen friend who in his five pro seasons had already been rewarded as second runner-up in ’22 Cy Young voting, became a mic’d up legend at the All-Star Game and was Jays’ Opening Day starter.
“It’s tough,” Gausman said. “I can’t truly understand what he’s going through, because I didn’t have the success that he’s had, early in his career. That’s what’s so tough mentally. You know, we’ll just try to be here for him and whatever questions he asks, we’re going to answer him. We’re here to support him, to get him back to who he is.”
What Gausman can recall is his own career nadir. Granted, he had fallen from a lower ledge.
“My low point was probably ’19,” Gausman explained. “I was with Atlanta. I had been on the IL in Florida. I had plantar fasciitis. I was having the worst year of my career and when I came back, I only made three starts and then I got DFA’d by the Braves. I had a (6.19) ERA at the time. It was a pretty good sample size, but that was definitely the low point.”
However, with not much more thought, there’s more. The ups and downs for the 32-year-old current AL leader in strikeouts, now at the top of his game, stretched from 2017 to the off-season, 2019-20, when he played with four different major-league teams – O’s, Braves, Reds and Giants -- with little love and less success.
“(Another low) was after that (‘19) season being non-tendered by Cincinnati and becoming a free agent, after spending the last three months in the bullpen. So going into that off-season I didn’t really know what to expect, what teams were going to be looking at me as, either a reliever or a starter. So, a lot of question marks.”
Just after the birth of their first daughter, Sadie, Kevin and Taylor Gausman were forced to have a meaningful discussion about the future.
“I had some serious conversations with my wife,” Gausman explained “Hey, I’ve got six years in. We’ve had a good career, to this point. We just had our first kid. Do we just kind of call it. Thank God, everything has worked out.
“But this game is tough. It will humble anybody. And it might humble you in Year 10. It might humble you in Year 2. So, it’s just about learning from those experiences. The toughest thing to tell (Manoah) is something we’ve been telling him, that he’s going to be better after he gets through this. You obviously don’t want to hear that as you’re going through it, though.”
Drafted fourth overall by the O’s in 2012, Gausman wears his No. 34 to honour Roy Halladay, a fellow Coloradan. Whenever he does reach out to Manoah at the Player Development Complex in Florida, he has this advice that he heard as a young pitcher, much earlier in his career.
“One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard is that “pitching is a constant striving for perfection with the realization that you’ll never get there,’”Gausman said. “That’s something I think about every day. You try to be perfect, but, in reality, it’s a really hard game and what we’re trying to do is insane, when you think about it.
“You look around the league and nobody has a smooth sail throughout their career, especially as a pitcher. Whether it’s health or just stuff. The physicality of being a starting pitcher is tough on certain guys. You look around and it kind of humbles you that nobody has it all figured out. That helps you to just know that.”
Kevin was reminded that whenever it does happen that he reaches out via text or phone to console Manoah, he will not be the first member of the Gausman family to wrap their arms around the talented 25-year-old in an attempt to comfort him at an emotional low point. He was reminded of three-year-old daughter, Sadie, who after Manoah’s wild-card debacle in October, walked shyly over and wrapped her arms around Alek’s neck as he sat at his locker, head buried in his hands. At the sweet memory, Gausman smiled at his elder daughter’s concern.
“Yeah, she’s a sweetheart,” Gausman said, with the tone of a father. “Very empathetic and that’s one thing both my daughters (Sadie and Sutton) have. That’s one of their best qualities, so I love that they’re able to recognize when someone’s upset and want to help them out.”
Earlier on Thursday, GM Ross Atkins addressed the Manoah demotion. He would not put a timetable on Manoah’s return, but agreed that he is not being punished at the PDC and would not be in the rotation every five days against draft picks and leftover prospects from four full-season clubs. He is there to rebuild his repertoire with the help of analysts in the pitching lab and to come back whole on the other side. The PDC was always a better option for Manoah than would be AAA-Buffalo.