Detroit — This ballpark is his home now. You wonder how long it took Matt Manning to get his head around that.
For the last two summers, he’s lived downtown, within walking distance of Comerica Park. He’d drive by the yard every day on his way to and from Fifth Third Field in Toledo. There were days when he’d take his dog to the dog park across the street. He’d go up to the Tin Roof on Adams Street and watch a few innings of the Tigers games if he got back in time.
On Wednesday afternoon, he will make his first career start at Comerica Park against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s just special,” he said. “This is where I want to be and I’m happy I’m here.”
Manning, 23, made his big-league debut last Thursday in Anaheim, going toe-to-toe with Shohei Ohtani, who was the starting pitcher and batted second. Manning grinded through five innings, allowing just two second-inning runs.
On Wednesday, he gets Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, Nolan Arenado and his long-time buddy Dylan Carlson.
“We grew up playing together,” said Manning. “We played Little League together. We had breakfast together yesterday.”
It’s all happening fast for the two Sacramento-area natives. Carlson, an outfielder who is a year younger than Manning, made his debut with the Cardinals last year while Manning was recovering from a forearm strain and COVID-19.
“The nerves I had with the first start have kind of gone away,” Manning said. “I know it’s all about competing and results and trying to get the W.”
He will try to stave off any Little League flashbacks when Carlson steps into the box.
“I’m going to try not to laugh,” Manning said. “I’ve never done it (faced a friend) in this setting. Just try to put the emotions aside.”
Manning threw 68% four-seam fastballs against the Angels last week. Even though the fastball was lively and effective, he knows he has to use his entire four-pitch toolbox.
“Right now I’m just feeling my way through it,” he said. “I know I have to throw more curveballs for strikes, more change-ups. But I just go out and kind of go by what I read off swings. If my fastball is playing 65-70% of the time, I’ll throw it. When I need to throw something else, I will.”
These, as manager AJ Hinch has said, are developmental starts for Manning. He is far from a finished product and learning lessons at the big-league level can be painful. Ultimately, though, it’s the best proving ground there is.
“What a great experience for him to pitch in these circumstances,” Hinch said. “His pitch mix is going to change over time. It’s not going to be 70-plus percent fastballs. And I’m not going to go get him after 75 pitches all the time. It’s just continuing to grow in the right direction.
“One, I don’t think he’ll be as nervous as he was last time. And two, execution is always going to be key for him. There are some areas to go with the fastball against this (Cardinals) team and there is also some need for his secondary pitches.”
Understand something about Manning: There was never a time that he drove past Comerica Park on his way to Toledo, or when he was watching games from the roof of a bar across the street, when he didn’t fully believe he’d one day be right where he will be Wednesday afternoon — on the mound starting for the Tigers.
Not when he was COVID sick and losing some 15 pounds, weight that he hasn’t yet put back on. Not when he was getting kicked around by Triple-A hitters in Toledo. His belief never as much as flickered.
He’s going to need to hang on to that as the training wheels gradually come off at the big-league level.
“He does feel like he belongs here,” Hinch said. “And I think he’s going to get more and more comfortable the more experience he gets. He’s pretty calm, pretty cool and collected. He’s not wowed by the level or the third deck.
“We just have to make sure he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself to be perfect. He’s going to be allowed to learn along the way, just as we’ve allowed Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize to learn along the way.”
Around the horn
Right-hander Beau Burrows, the former first-round pick whom the Tiger designated for assignment last week, was claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins. Burrows had a minor-league option left, which made him attractive to teams.
… Catcher Wilson Ramos, also DFA’d last week, cleared unconditional waivers and is now a free agent.
… Shortstop Niko Goodrum, who is on the injured list with a tendon injury on his left index finger, left the team and went home to Atlanta for the birth of his daughter. Hinch said he is still unable to do baseball activities. There is still inflammation in the area of the injury.
… Starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull (right forearm strain) is expected to begin his throwing program in Lakeland this week. He is not expected to return until after the All-Star break.
… Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (right pectoralis strain) was expected to throw two or three innings for Triple-A Toledo Tuesday night.
… Right-hander Wily Peralta will remain penciled into the rotation, taking injured Matthew Boyd’s spot, Hinch said. Hinch added that could change based on certain matchups and said he’s also considered using an opener.
Cardinals at Tigers
► First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit
► RHP John Gant (4-5, 3.50), Cardinals: The Tigers’ task will be to make him throw his pitches (he uses six of them) in the strike zone — he doesn’t much. He leads the National League with 44 walks (with 46 strikeouts). In his last three starts, he’s allowed 15 runs and 10 walks in 11 innings.
► RHP Matt Manning (0-1, 3.60), Tigers: This will be his debut at Comerica Park, coming off a solid MLB debut in Anaheim last Thursday where he gave up two runs and four hits in five innings. He was fastball dominant (53 four-seamers out of 77 pitches). All four hits came off it, as did all three of his strikeouts.