So, how did you spend Matt Manning Night last Thursday?
Did you watch the Detroit Tigers on a tablet while nestled in bed, thanks to a 9:38 p.m. first pitch, letting the dulcet tones of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price roll through your clock radio for the Tigers-centric take on the debut of the final member of Detroit’s new “Big Three”?
Did you flip around for Bally Sports Detroit’s alternate channel for a few minutes before remembering the game was on YouTube and squinting at your phone in the living room for as long as possible?
Did you patch your laptop through an improvised USB-C-to-USB-A-to-HDMI connection — and you thought WHIP, OPS and MARP* were a mouthful — so the whole family could watch Manning’s debut against the Angels while Matt Vasgersian gushed over Shohei Ohtani for most of the game?
Or did you do like we did, and just Google a YouTube link on said laptop and mostly try to ignore Vasgersian and former Tiger Rajai Davis?
Hello, and welcome to the Matt Manning Newsletter.
*MARP, as always, stands for Mustache Above Replacement Player, and Jake Rogers is still the Tigers’ leader therein.
No matter how you watched — or even if you called it an early night and caught the highlights the next day — it’s all good. Manning was decent — good enough to earn a second big-league start (even if the suddenly pitching-short Tigers had another option) — but not so good that you’ll be telling your grandkids where you were the night he donned the “Old English D” for the first time.
The lanky right-hander allowed four hits and two earned runs while walking two and striking out three over five innings, and took the loss despite leaving down just 2-1 in an eventual 7-5 loss for the Tigers. As the Freep’s Evan Petzold reported here, Manning was encouraged by the outing: “”Just the fact that I was able to put away some of the emotions and not make it bigger than it was,” Manning said. “Once I got out there, I felt very comfortable.”
But, hey, that’s usually how it goes for young starters. Sure, sometimes you’ll get a Stephen Strasburg debut, with 14 strikeouts over seven innings back in 2010, or even a Juan Marichal debut, which is probably the GOAT of first starts: On July 19, 1960, the future Giants star allowed one walk and one hit — in the eighth inning, no less — while striking out 12 Phillies in nine innings. (And if you’re looking for a more Tigers-centric look at past prospects’ debuts — not to mention more recent — we’ve got you covered here, with six rookie Tigers over the previous 15 seasons.)
But usually? As manager AJ Hinch noted Thursday night, “It’s important for him to learn how to pitch as he goes, but there’s no mass evaluation the first time out. We want him to be able to breathe at the end of the night.”
Just as Manning built on his seven starts this season in Triple-A — Our Man Petzold has those lessons summed up here — he’ll need to learn from his debut when he makes that second start, set for Wednesday at Comerica Park against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Say, speaking of learning, how’d those prized Tigers prospects we mentioned last week fare in their second starts with the club? Here’s a quick summary:
Casey Mize, 2020: Five hits, two walks, two strikeouts and three earned runs over 3⅓ innings in a 9-3 loss to the Cubs. The verdict: Worse than his debut.
Tarik Skubal, 2020: Three hits, one walk, five strikeouts and one earned run over 2⅓ innings in a 7-4 win (no decision) over Cleveland. The verdict: Better than his debut.
Jacob Turner, 2011: Seven hits, no walks, two strikeouts and six earned runs over 4⅓ innings in an 11-8 loss to the Royals. The verdict: Much, much worse than his debut.
Rick Porcello, 2009: Five hits, no walks, three strikeouts and one earned run over seven innings in an 8-2 win over the Mariners. The verdict: Better than his debut.
Andrew Miller, 2007: Five hits, three walks, five strikeouts and four earned runs over 5⅓ innings in a 15-7 win over the Mets. The verdict: Worse than his debut.
Justin Verlander, 2005: Eight hits, two walks, three strikeouts and five earned runs over six innings in a 5-2 loss to the Twins. The verdict: Worse than his debut (in his final start before becoming 2006’s MUST-SEE JV .
Yeah, none of those starts are getting released on DVD — or even pirated on YouTube — any time soon. But Manning 2.0? You never know. Tune in to, thankfully, Bally Sports Detroit at 1:10 p.m. Wednesday to find out — no HDMI necessary.
Of course, while Casey Mize struggled in his first few starts with the Tigers, he has rounded into form since April 29, with Sunday’s start as his 10th straight allowing three runs or less. Another way we know our “Cinco de Mize-O’ is all grown up: The language he used in blasting umpire John Tumpane for forcing a glove change in his start Tuesday in Kansas City. (We can’t use the word here, but it starts with “sh” and we don’t mean “shutout.”) The mitt fit, if you will, stems from MLB’s impending crackdown on “sticky substances,” which starts today. Our Man Petzold has the scoop here on how the ban will affect the Tigers. (We assume Mize will get to use his own glove in Friday’s start at Comerica, after borrowing Kyle Funkhouser’s on Tuesday and Sunday.)
Down: Umpires named John. Up: Infielders named Jonathan. At least, that’s Our Man Petzold’s take in his assessment of who’s surging and who’s stumbling as spring officially turns to summer. (Yes, the days are all getting shorter now, which means less time to figure out your setup for the next YouTube game, currently TBA.) As good as Ohtani has been for the Angels over the part month — and that includes his four homers this weekend, for the love of Goose Gossage STOP THROWING TO HIM — Jonathan Schoop has been his better at the plate, producing 1.7 WAR with the bat to Ohtani’s 1.3. Of course, all is not peaches and cream in the Tigers’ outfield. Click here to find out which infielder’s time could be running short as a starter.
Calling a Cab-rera
While we’re talking June surges, there’s Miguel Cabrera, who’s hitting .297 this month with five extra-base hits, or as many as he had in April and May combined. Though only one of those blasts has flown over the wall; he’s at 492 career home runs and getting to 500 this season is looking increasingly unlikely. He’s also 90 hits from 3,000; to get there this year, he’ll need to stay healthy, get to 500 at-bats (from 200 as of Sunday) and STILL hit .300 in those final 300 ABs. (Or a better average in fewer at-bats; your improbable call.) But the Tigers remain optimistic, in only the way you can with roughly $80 million still guaranteed and no prospect pushing him for a preemptive release (see “Pujols, Albert,” in Anaheim/L.A.) Anyway, Our Man Petzold has the reasons for optimism, or at least pleasant dreams, here.
3 to watch
Here are three players making a push for playing time (or the lack thereof) this week:
Happy 39th, Other No. 3!
Cabrera’s old teammate, second baseman Ian Kinsler, turns 39 on Tuesday. The Arizona native spent four seasons with the Tigers, from 2014-17, wearing Alan Trammell’s number and posting a slash line of .275/.328/.436. He was shipped to the Angels in December 2017 mostly to cut payroll; the Angels dealt him at the 2018 trade deadline to the Red Sox, with whom he finally won a World Series. He then spent his final season in the majors with the Padres before retiring in December 2019. He finished with 1,999 hits and 257 homers in 1,888 games over 14 seasons. But Kinsler isn’t done with baseball; he’s on the roster for Team Israel, which is one of six teams that will play next month in Tokyo in baseball’s return to the Olympics. (The baseball games begin July 28, with matchups yet to be determined.
Other Tigers birthdays this week: Jake Wood (84 on Tuesday), Chris “Redpop” Shelton (41 on Saturday), Kalamazoo’s Derek Jeter, who definitely didn’t do anything noteworthy in the majors (47 on Saturday).
Mark your calendar!
The Tigers are back home for six games this week, in an unusual configuration. First up, it’s two games vs. the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday in what could be considered a celebration of the 15th anniversary of their 2006 World Series matchup —Quick, somebody ask Kenny Rogers about the sticky stuff then and now! — if that five-game series wasn’t mostly unpleasant to remember.
Then the Houston Astros come to town for a four-game series starting Thursday. Let’s see, the last time these two teams met, both teams were 6-6 after a three-game Tigers sweep. Since then, the Tigers have gone 23-36 while the Astros have gone 37-22 (and get to beat up on the woeful Baltimore Orioles from Monday-Wednesday). So that should be fun.
Because we know you’re wondering: Probably the best debut in Tigers franchise history belongs to Pat Underwood, who struck out four and allowed three hits and a walk in 8⅓ innings against the Blue Jays in Toronto on May 31, 1979. The losing pitcher? Pat’s older brother Tom Underwood, who allowed one run on six hits in a complete game.