Manning 'learning more' in final 1st-half start

July 10th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second consecutive night, a Tigers rookie pitcher held the Twins hitless for four innings at Target Field, only to end up with a defeat. Unlike Tarik Skubal, 's evening ended with a roster move back to Triple-A Toledo.

It wasn’t a statement about his outing in Friday’s 4-2 loss, but a demonstration about the Tigers’ need for pitching in the final weekend before the All-Star break and the desire to watch the inning workloads. Manning will miss next weekend’s series against the Twins at Comerica Park, but could rejoin the rotation for the following series against the Rangers.

He leaves the Tigers, albeit temporarily, a more well-rounded pitcher than he entered.

“I think I’m the same pitcher,” Manning said. “I think I’m just learning more at this level. I’m not really doing anything different, just building off of what I’m doing.”

That continued Friday, when he arguably looked better while giving up baserunners late than he did while stringing together outs early. His four hardest-hit balls surrendered all went for outs in his first four innings, from Josh Donaldson’s first-inning drive to the center-field fence to a Nelson Cruz second-inning lineout with a 115.4 mph exit velocity. His two hits allowed were line-drive singles -- one in the fifth inning from Max Kepler at 80.6 mph, the other from Luis Arraez in the sixth at 97.7 mph.

In between the early outs and the late damage, Manning found some of his best pitching . It wasn’t just the leverage counts leading to groundouts, or the fastball that ticked back up to 95.5 mph, but the way he worked ahead of hitters after they just missed punishing him for fastballs over the middle of the plate.

Manning threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of his 20 batters faced. Eight of those first-pitch strikes came on non-fastballs. He threw breaking balls or offspeed to 13 batters, including eight of his final nine.

“He did attack with secondary pitches,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “They have a lineup that’s primarily left-handed except for two of the big boys with Donaldson and Cruz. [Miguel] Sanó's at the bottom of the order, but you’re going to get a ton of left-handed hitters that they stack against Matt.

“So the breaking ball was really big. The changeup was big. He got away with a couple fastballs and he just kept getting outs efficiently. So there was a lot to like tonight.”

All five Twins hitters in the fifth inning saw secondary pitches to begin their at-bats, including four consecutive changeups. None of the five put the first pitch in play. Kepler took a changeup for a ball before dumping a line drive into short left field for Minnesota’s first hit of the night.

Arraez’s leadoff single and a Donaldson walk ended Manning’s outing with two on and nobody out in the sixth. Ian Krol, making his first Major League appearance since 2018 and his first Tigers appearance since 2015, balked both runners over before giving up a Trevor Larnach RBI single and a Nelson Cruz sacrifice fly. A sinking two-out line drive from Kepler skipped past left fielder Robbie Grossman for a two-run triple to complete the damage.

Manning finished with two runs on two hits over five-plus innings, walking three and striking out three. He threw just 69 pitches, 38 for strikes. Thirty-six of those 69 pitches were fastballs, or just over 50 percent, well under his 64-percent fastball rate for his five-start stint. His slider drew a couple badly-needed swings and misses Friday, including a strikeout of Sanó to help strand runners at the corners in the fifth. His changeup garnered four called strikes, virtually all of them early in counts.

If he can hold onto that velocity bump and improve the swing-and-miss rate, he could be in for an encouraging second half upon his return. It’s not that different of an adjustment path than what good friend Casey Mize faced upon his debut last summer.

“The bar’s pretty high here,” Hinch said. “We raise our expectations every time with our young guys, especially when they’re the higher-end talent that comes from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues. I think his heartbeat’s settled in. I think his head is in a good place. I think he knows what he has to do in order to stay in the games and, ultimately, win these games.”

Grossman atoned for his over-aggressiveness in the field with a two-run homer off former Mud Hen Caleb Thielbar to halve Detroit’s deficit, but Hansel Robles kept it there.