DETROIT -- For the second time in less than 24 hours, a Brewers starter shut down the Tigers' offense for the first three-plus innings. For the second time, a Tigers starter matched him. This time, Detroit’s lineup broke through early enough to not only make starter Matt Manning a winner in arguably the best outing of his rookie season, but avoid needing a third straight walk-off run.
The resulting 4-1 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park earned the Tigers a two-game series sweep and a 4-1 homestand against two teams likely headed to the postseason. Detroit not only competed with Tampa Bay and Milwaukee, it further established its brand of baseball.
The Tigers won three of four against the Brewers this season, including a two-game split in Milwaukee. But the Brewers are the latest contender to run into Detroit, now 34-31 against teams with winning records and 33-25 against teams within three games of a playoff spot. The Tigers head to Tropicana Field for four more games against the Rays, then return home for three against the AL Central-leading White Sox.
“I think we’ve been doing this kind of thing all year,” Manning said. “We play some teams very, very well, and it just goes to these guys how much we like to play; how much we like to compete. We’re here to compete, not to lay over.”
In both games against the Brewers, the Tigers used strong pitching to match zeroes with one of the most formidable pitching staffs in the National League. Wednesday’s duel was driven by Manning, whose six innings of two-hit, one-run ball showcased some of his better pure pitching.
In many ways, Manning picked up where he left off from his previous start in Pittsburgh, where a hard-hit comebacker to his left knee knocked him out of action after three solid innings. While Manning’s fastball again played up from his season average, topping out at 97.3 mph on a fifth-inning strikeout of Eduardo Escobar, he was arguably better mixing in his slider and curveball. The two breaking balls accounted for 25 of Manning's 98 pitches, but seven of his 12 swings and misses, including half of his season-high six strikeouts.
“Usually when my curveball’s working, I have a good feel for everything,” Manning said. “I thought [Wednesday] I was a real five-pitch pitcher, including my sinker. I thought I could kind of throw anything whenever I wanted to, and that’s probably when I’m at my best.”
It has been a process for Manning after his early outings were fastball-heavy. The breaking pitches he used on his way up the Minor Leagues needed refinement, but Manning was learning on the job.
The curveball, catcher Dustin Garneau said, is “a big, big pitch for him. His changeup and his slider can get kind of close together mph-wise, so being able to throw that to slow batters down and get under the swings of those lefties is huge for him. The last couple games, he’s had a feel for it and he’s been ripping it.”
Both Brewers hits off Manning came during a 30-pitch second inning after he retired Milwaukee’s first five batters of the afternoon. Manning had an 0-2 count on Lorenzo Cain -- both strikes on sliders -- but couldn’t get the call on one just off the outside corner. Manning came back with a fastball in nearly the same spot, but Cain poked it down the first-base line for an RBI double to score Jace Peterson.
Four consecutive Brewers reached base safely starting with Peterson’s two-out single, building a 1-0 Milwaukee lead and loading the bases before Manning retired Kolten Wong. From there, Manning rolled, allowing just two walks with five strikeouts in 15 batters. One of those strikeouts reached on a wild pitch.
“He didn’t try to be too perfect after [the second inning],” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He just tried to make pitches and get his outs, and [he] got pretty deep into the game. He’s starting to mature within his outings, which is key.”
Manning’s mastery was needed to keep pace with Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, who retired Detroit’s first 11 batters until Robbie Grossman battled out of an 0-2 count for a two-out walk in the fourth. Woodruff had another 0-2 count on Miguel Cabrera but tried to retire him with a fastball. Cabrera caught up and laced a line drive into left for an RBI double.