DETROIT -- The frustration was evident on Matt Manning’s face as he walked into the Tigers dugout at the end of his outing Saturday. He should’ve been following his teammates with the sixth inning over. Instead, he had two outs, three runs in and a reason to look steamed, but he kept his composure throughout.
And as the Tigers struggled on their way to their second consecutive loss to the Orioles, this one a 5-2 defeat at Comerica Park, manager A.J. Hinch had a fresh reason to look ahead to his potential infield logjam.
“It’s tough,” Hinch said. “Pitchers have emotions. They can rein them in and they’ve got to focus on the next pitch, whether they execute or whether we execute behind them. These are all development topics that he’s learning at this level, and he’s taking steps forward, which is very key.”
Hinch's toughest decision Saturday was whether to stick with Manning through a sixth-inning jam. The rookie right-hander had walked back-to-back hitters to load the bases with one out and two sluggers ahead. Pedro Severino had homered twice Friday, while Maikel Franco hit a home run in the fifth that left Manning pounding the dugout railing at inning’s end.
Hinch gave Manning a chance to work out of it, like he did five days earlier in Minnesota after a walk and a home run. That previous test ended with a Josh Donaldson two-run homer.
“He’s given me that chance multiple times now, and I’m trying my best to get through that third time around the lineup and getting better,” Manning said. “From the last time, I really just wanted to make my pitches better and get more consistency.”
“If we make a play behind him right there, completely different ballgame,” catcher Eric Haase said.
Manning nodded as if to say he had his defense’s back. But two pitches later, ninth batter Pat Valaika dumped a soft line drive into right field for a two-run single and ended Manning’s night.
“I thought it was a huge step forward for him, and he did his part,” Hinch said. “I wish it would’ve been different results for him at the end. …
“The two at-bats where he got the popup with the bases loaded and then the ground ball that should’ve ended the inning, those are big development moments for him, and he made his pitches. Now, at the end of the day, we didn’t get it done, and we’re a team. But I was happy with how he threw the ball, and he responded to that traffic at the end of his outing.”
Still, it was a reminder of the second-base situation that remains in flux. The Tigers optioned Castro to Triple-A Toledo on July 16 amidst an all-around slump, but he returned six days later when Isaac Paredes went on the 10-day injured list with a hip strain. Castro looked much stronger his first week back, but his first error since his return was a costly one and rekindled defensive questions. His defensive metrics include minus-5 outs above average and minus-11 defensive runs saved according to Statcast and Fangraphs, respectively. The latter was tied for third-lowest among Major League position players this season entering Saturday.
Paredes began a rehab assignment with Toledo this weekend but has played two games as a designated hitter so far. Fellow infielder Niko Goodrum began a rehab assignment with the Mud Hens on Saturday, starting at shortstop.
Once they’re ready to return, Hinch said before Saturday’s game, “It’ll increase competition. We’ll have to make decisions. I’ve always lived by the saying: Give us as many hard decisions as you can make. That means we’re in a really good place. Managers should never complain about having too many available good players.”
The decision at second base, like the one at shortstop, has short- and long-term ramifications. Castro shifted from short to second early in the season for defensive purposes, part of a revolving door at shortstop that currently belongs to Short. Paredes has adjusted to second base after primarily playing third last year in his brief callup. Goodrum can play all over but could benefit from a full-time spot, yet he’ll be eligible for arbitration this winter. Kody Clemens began the season as Toledo’s primary second baseman but has added first base and right field to his duties recently.
Just two of Baltimore’s five runs off Manning were earned, and one of those was arguably a hard-luck tally. Franco’s homer was a loft shot to left off a high fastball that he chased and muscled just far enough to hit off the top of the fence and out, just beyond left fielder Robbie Grossman’s reach.