Big 3 brewing as Tigers win sixth straight

Manning, back with club, is latest rookie starter to deliver in series

July 22nd, 2021

DETROIT -- The love affair with young arms in this city is running so deep that even new Lions quarterback Jared Goff seemed surprised at the ovation he received at Comerica Park during Wednesday’s 4-2 Tigers win over the Rangers.

Goff, the son of a former Major League catcher, is just 26. He’s still older than the three rookie starters who have helped the Tigers to victories in this series. , and were highly touted prospects and teammates at Double-A Erie two years ago, pitching the SeaWolves into a playoff race while dreaming of doing the same in Detroit. The Tigers aren’t there yet, but they’re providing a preview.

“I think what everyone expected when we were in Double-A, how we were performing, that’s what they wanted to see here,” Manning said Wednesday after six quality innings. “And I think we’re bringing that as best we can. We’re trying to stay on track; there’s going to be some bumps in the road. But for the most part, I think we’re showing just a glimpse of what we can do for the next handful of years.”

The Tigers have won six in a row, matching their longest streak from last season. They’ll take the field Thursday behind Tyler Alexander with a chance at their first seven-game win streak in five years and their seventh series sweep of three or more games this season. The Tigers swept six such series over the previous three seasons combined.

Detroit has outscored Minnesota and Texas by a 35-7 margin over six wins since the All-Star break and trailed after only one of 51 innings. The Tigers are doing it with an injury-depleted rotation that just lost Spencer Turnbull for the season and has veterans Matthew Boyd and José Ureña on the injured list. The only current starter older than 27 is 32-year-old veteran Wily Peralta, who has made six starts for the team after opening the season at Triple-A Toledo.

“They’re going to get their opportunities every five or six days to get out there and be the guy,” manager A.J. Hinch said of the kids. “They want to take advantage of these opportunities. They’re learning, they’re growing. But most importantly, they’re putting us in a position to win. That’s what their job is the day they have the ball.”

Mize’s only limits lately have been the innings restrictions he has worked through in his three starts this month, including four scoreless innings of one-hit ball against Texas in Monday’s series opener. Skubal’s six innings of one-run ball Tuesday improved him to 5-1 with a 3.31 ERA since his 1-7 start.

Now comes Manning, who has given up two runs in five of his six starts, allowing nine runs in the other. Both he and Skubal would’ve pitched into the seventh if not for the long layoff during the All-Star break, Hinch said.

“It’s almost like an inner competition within the guys, and it’s making everybody greater around us,” said rookie shortstop , who hit one of three Tigers home runs off Rangers starter Jordan Lyles to give Manning a lead.

While Skubal and Mize opened the season in Detroit, Manning had his growing pains at Toledo, including 11 home runs allowed and a 9.23 ERA over his first six starts. He settled down for a quality outing just in time for the call to a Tigers rotation in need.

Since his Major League debut last month, Manning has learned the lessons and put in the work to not only stick, but improve, including refinement of his slider and regaining life on his fastball.

Though the Tigers optioned Manning to Toledo following his last start July 9 at Minnesota, he didn’t start for the Mud Hens. He threw three bullpen sessions, partly to keep his arm ready, partly to do work.

Pitching on 11 days of rest, Manning gave up RBI doubles to former Tiger John Hicks on a breaking ball and David Dahl on a first-pitch changeup, but little else. His other hits allowed were a Joey Gallo ground-ball single through the middle against a defensive shift that featured seven defenders on the outfield grass, and an Adolis García infield single.

He garnered four strikeouts but drew 11 swings and misses, seven of them off a fastball that was below his average velocity but a tick above his average spin rate. His slider, by contrast, was two miles per hour faster than normal and drew three whiffs.

“It’s a lot of work to put in between starts,” Manning said, “but I’m starting to see it translate into games.”

As Tigers fans watch the work of this rebuild begin to translate in Detroit, they have to feel the same.