How Matt Manning can put ‘a lot of pressure’ on Detroit Tigers to make his MLB debut

Detroit Free Press

Drafted No. 9 overall in 2016Detroit Tigers right-handed pitching prospect Manning has climbed the farm system’s ladder.

The 23-year-old now gets to pitch in Triple-A games, starting in Tuesday’s season opener at Fifth Third Field against Nashville, meaning the next step in his development would be his MLB debut. Assuming all goes as planned, that will happen this season.

“It’s their decision,” Manning said Monday. “I’m going to pitch the best I can. I’m going to do the things I know how to do, pitch well and get the Mud Hens as many wins as I can. Whenever they think I’m ready, that’s when I’ll go.”

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The Tigers need to see him thrive.

“I don’t want to feel like there’s a countdown to his call up,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sunday. “He’s got to earn it by going and pitching well at the Triple-A level, showing that he’s healthy and his stuff holds. He needs to execute.”

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Hinch got his first look at Manning this spring, but he learned about him after getting hired in late October. With pitching coach Chris Fetter, Hinch created individualized plans for all his players. He took into consideration that Manning was shut down in late August — about a month before the alternate site shut down — with a right forearm strain.

Right-hander Alex Faedo was shut down at the same time with the same injury.

Faedo underwent Tommy John surgery in December 2020. Manning and the Tigers believe he didn’t have any long-term damage. Two months after the injury, Manning said he was “100%” healthy and on track in his preparation for spring training. In a normal season, he estimates he would have “missed a couple of starts” before returning.

But the Tigers didn’t want to take any chances.

Manning made four two-inning appearances and a single one-inning outing during spring training. He gave up five runs for a 5.00 ERA, with five walks and eight strikeouts. He did not allow a home run.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Hinch said. “There’s a competitive edge to him. He’s got all the ingredients of a good starting pitcher at this level. He’s got a lot to learn on how to use his pitches and the execution of those.”

“It’s a league that hits a lot of fastballs over the plate,” Manning said about his expectations for joining the Tigers. “Commanding my pitches and tunneling them either down or up in the zone is going to be key.”

Once the Tigers left for Detroit, Manning stayed in Lakeland for minor-league spring training to build up his arm for the Triple-A season. He is set to pitch deeper into games; the organization needs to see him compete for longer than two innings.

“We want to see Matt Manning make his major-league debut at some point this year,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in late March. Avila later added, “We’ve got to get that pitching right as we move forward to have any kind of success.”

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Hinch has seen ups and downs from ex-top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. So far, the results are a bit shaky for Mize and Skubal, but Mize is starting to look like he’s making considerable improvements.

Soon, Manning will face the same challenges.

Hinch needs him prepared.

“I saw a nice, confident player who probably himself has the countdown of when he comes to the big leagues,” Hinch said. “He’s not going to control when in the sense of timing, with the exception of he can put a lot of pressure on us by going out and dominating, going out and consistently putting up good starts and executing pitches.”

Manning displayed his ability to dominate in 2019 for Double-A Erie. He recorded a 2.83 ERA, 0.980 WHIP, 38 walks and 148 strikeouts. He pitched 133⅔ innings across 24 starts and was teammates with Mize and Skubal.

Since coming to the majors, Mize and Skubal have struggled with command. But when they pound the strike zone, opponents can’t hang. Mize’s command has improved, but Skubal needs to be more consistent in his strike throwing. His efficiency could use a boost, too.

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Manning’s fastball can reach 97 mph and has a curveball that’s crucial to his success. He also has a changeup and is in the early stages of crafting a new slider. Before reaching the majors, he must prove he can locate these pitches.

“I was working on my slider a lot, just to get (something) different from my curveball,” Manning said. “Right now, I think I’m going to rely a lot more on my curveball. I made some adjustments to it, where it’s probably going to be harder like a slider but still have a curveball shape. I’m going to roll with that one for a little bit, just so I can use my changeup more. Sometimes, when I was working on my slider, I didn’t go to it as much, so I wasn’t to put that heavy in my arsenal.”

The Tigers believe Manning has the potential to be superb at baseball’s highest level, but they won’t call him up until he executes.

Only then will he prove his readiness.

“He has the athleticism to do it,” Hinch said. “He has the repertoire to do it. But we don’t have a target date for him like, ‘Hey, he’s going to make this start.’ Because we don’t know where we’re at that point. We don’t know where our rotation is, and we don’t know how well he’s pitching.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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