Manning called up by Tigers, to debut Thurs.

June 15th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- The opportunity finally knocked for Tigers top pitching prospect . His Major League debut might not be the way the club would’ve wanted it, and it doesn’t come with the former first-round Draft pick at the top of his game. But he’ll take the mound on Thursday night against the Angels at a time when Detroit needs him.

The Tigers added Manning to their taxi squad and brought him to Kauffman Stadium, where he threw a bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon instead of his previously scheduled start for Triple-A Toledo that evening. He’ll be officially called up on Thursday to start opposite Shohei Ohtani at Angel Stadium.

Manning is ranked as Detroit’s No. 3 prospect and No. 18 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list. His arrival means the Tigers’ three top pitching prospects, the backbone of the club’s rebuild, will start on three consecutive nights, with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal starting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Kansas City. The 23-year-old Manning is the youngest of the trio.

“Obviously, we have visions of those three being very stable parts of a rotation,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “They’ve got to go out and earn it. They’re at different points of their development track to become guys like that. But I hope what Tarik and Casey have learned so far will quickly be communicated to Matt as he gets underway.”

Though Manning began the season last month at Toledo seemingly on a countdown to a summer callup for his MLB debut, such a call seemed implausible two weeks ago as he sat with a 9.23 ERA and 11 home runs allowed through six starts. He took a step forward with six innings of two-run ball and eight strikeouts in his most recent start last Wednesday.

“His velocity has ticked up a little bit towards the end of his outings, and we’ve got to get him into his outing with his best stuff,” Hinch said. “He’s eased into it velocity-wise and execution-wise. The pitch that’s really a separator for him is his breaking ball. He’s always in between curveball and slider. He’s got to find the right mix and the right feel for when to throw it for a strike and when to throw a chase breaking ball as well.

“The velocity up top is a really good, effective pitch for him, but that all is predicated on throwing strikes with your other pitches. If you’re a high fastball pitcher, and there’s no other threat to throw a strike with another pitch, that puts you in a really tough spot against good hitters. So I think as the outing went on last time, he landed his breaking ball at a more effective rate and essentially made his 95-plus fastball be pretty good.”

That is part of a bigger lesson Manning learned in his introduction to veteran Triple-A hitters compared to young, sometimes more talented prospects in Double-A that he handled in 2018 and ‘19.

“I think I learned that you can’t always out-stuff people, out-velo them,” Manning said. “I think I really learned to pitch towards the end inside and out. I think I had a lot of good things in there, in between a lot of not-so-good ones. It was a very good learning experience and the adversity that I went through, overcoming it, it’s going to make a better pitcher coming out the other end.”

Ideally, Manning would get another start or two for the Mud Hens to try to build on that. But the Tigers left ideal scenarios behind a week ago as injuries saddled them with two bullpen games. With Spencer Turnbull just beginning his rehab process in Lakeland, Fla., this week and Matthew Boyd now added to the 10-day injured list with left arm discomfort, the Tigers need starters. Ready or not, Manning realistically is their best, most talented option in an injury-depleted Toledo rotation.

Manning’s debut will come on a big stage opposite Ohtani, but it’ll also come in his home state. The Sacramento-area native expects to have plenty of friends and family at Angel Stadium, about 40 miles from Loyola Marymount University, where he had originally committed to play baseball and basketball before the Tigers signed him out of high school. It’s also not far from where his father, former NBA center Rich Manning, played for the L.A. Clippers in 1997.

As for pitching opposite Ohtani, Manning said, “He’s going to be doing his thing, and I’m going to go out there and do mine.”