KANSAS CITY -- Pulling Matt Manning from Saturday’s start against the Royals was one of the last things Tigers manager A.J. Hinch wanted to do. But one of the few things worse on the list would’ve been adding Manning to the Tigers’ burgeoning injured list, which claimed fellow starter Casey Mize a day ago and shortstop Javier Báez earlier Saturday.
With that in mind, Hinch told Manning his outing was done after two innings and 38 pitches, essentially turning Saturday into a bullpen game. The Tigers' ensuing 3-1 loss to the Royals came down to a lack of timely hitting more than available pitching, but Hinch will deal with a short-term defeat over the possibility of long-term depth issues that were staring him in the face with the recent spat of injuries.
Manning has been one of the more durable starters in the Tigers' system since Detroit selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. He was shut down for the final month of the 2020 season after experiencing forearm tightness while working out at the alternate site in Toledo, but came back for a full season last year and threw 117 2/3 innings over 25 starts between Triple-A Toledo and Detroit.
However, something in the 24-year-old right-hander’s mannerisms on the mound Saturday suggested to Hinch that something might be off.
“Just through some body language on the mound,” Hinch said. “We felt like he was looking at the radar gun a little bit and he didn't quite look right. So we asked him about it when he got to the dugout after the second, and he said he was fine to pitch through it but he was feeling a little something in his shoulder.
“Coming on the heels of how the last 24 hours have gone, we weren't going to take any risks whatsoever, so we got him out of the game. Hopefully it’s just a matter of cold and him feeling a little bit fatigued or achy or whatever, but we’ll obviously get him evaluated.”
Manning made an outstretched attempt at a bouncing comebacker on the final play of the second inning, but deflected it with his glove hand. His velocity was down on all of his pitches compared to his previous start Monday against the Red Sox, but in most cases by about half-a-mile-per-hour.
“Just through the outing, just was some little discomfort in my shoulder,” Manning said. “So I thought it was precautionary just to kind of shut it down.”
How that evaluation goes, and how soon he can get back on the mound if he’s OK, will play a big role in the Tigers’ short-term plans. Hinch was already juggling his rotation with Casey Mize on the 10-day injured list with a right elbow sprain. Even in the best-case scenario for Mize, he’ll miss at least one start.
Mize, Manning and Tarik Skubal comprise much more than just 60 percent of Detroit’s rotation. They’re at the heart of the team’s effort to build around young talent. Even with Spencer Torkelson’s arrival and the signings of veterans Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez, the success of this team -- short term and long term -- is most closely tied to the development of their young starters.
The Tigers pulled Michael Pineda from his scheduled start for Triple-A Toledo on Sunday so that they can have him ready to potentially pitch in Mize’s place next week against the Yankees. If the rotation stays in order, Mize’s spot would come up Wednesday. The Tigers don’t have another logical replacement if Manning has to miss a start.
Left-hander Joey Wentz, Detroit’s No. 12 prospect, is on the 40-man roster and could be called up for his big league debut if needed. However, he’s still stretching out his arm, having tossed 6 1/3 innings over two starts for the Mud Hens, including 3 1/3 innings with four runs allowed on three hits -- all homers -- and seven strikeouts in his last performance against Iowa on Thursday. He induced 16 swings and misses out of 72 pitches in that game. He could arguably use more seasoning, but then, so could Manning when the Tigers called him up last June.
Veteran Chase Anderson is also in the Mud Hens' rotation, and tossed four scoreless innings of one-hit ball with five strikeouts against Iowa on Wednesday. However, he would need to be added to a 40-man roster that is currently full; Detroit designated reliever Bryan Garcia for assignment on Saturday to open a spot for Wily Peralta, who will be used as a reliever.
Saturday’s Tigers loss arguably felt the absence of Báez more than Manning. Though Detroit drew seven walks, including six off starter Kris Bubic, Daz Cameron, who stole second, was the only player to score as he came home on a Dustin Garneau double in the second inning. Harold Castro was the only other Tiger to reach via walk that moved into scoring position.