Detroit Tigers rookie Matt Manning earned every bit of the standing ovation he received from the fans.
Making his Comerica Park debut six days after his MLB debut, Manning guided the Tigers (32-42) into the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals. There’s still plenty for him to work on, but the 23-year-old is holding his own in the big leagues.
The Tigers’ offense helped Manning to his first big-league win with home runs from Daz Cameron and Jonathan Schoop. Their blasts were crucial to notching a 6-2 victory over the Cardinals in the two-game series’ finale.
“It was everything I expected and everything I wanted it to be,” Manning said. “Getting out there for the first time, it’s a long run from the dugout to the pitcher’s mound. It’s a really good ballpark. I looked around, and it just felt really good to be here. It was great.”
Schoop, meanwhile, finished 2-for-4 with one double, one home run and three RBIs. In Tuesday’s 8-2 win, the 29-year-old went 2-for-5 with one home run and three RBIs.
Since May 11, the veteran is hitting .350 (55-for-157) with 10 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs, 32 RBIs, 14 walks and 28 strikeouts in his past 39 games. He is vying for his second All-Star Game appearance, after making the 2017 American League squad.
Manning allowed two runs on five hits and two walks. He only had one strikeout but fired 52 of 80 pitches for strikes. Three relievers kept the Cardinals from scoring the rest of the way: Gregory Soto (1⅓ innings), Jose Cisnero (1 inning) and Michael Fulmer (1 inning).
“I feel like I have a lot of weapons with those three at the back end,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said about Soto, Cisnero and Fulmer. “I can arrange them in any order. I know Michael’s gotten the majority of the back end, but I’m just as comfortable with Soto back there. Cisnero is really the calmest of our relievers. He comes in any situation and has a really good approach. I like how it lines up, and I don’t care what order it lines up in.”
Schoop crushes Cards
The Tigers worked Cardinals starter John Gant for back-to-back walks from Eric Haase and Nomar Mazara to begin the second inning. They were stranded on the bases, as Gant retired the next three batters — Cameron, Willi Castro and Isaac Paredes — without further trouble.
Paredes’ groundout ended the inning with runners on second and third. Entering Wednesday, opponents had a .136 batting average (8-for-59) against Gant with runners in scoring position. He also came into the game with an MLB-leading 44 walks.
A similar situation occurred in the third inning, as Jake Rogers and Akil Baddoo drew consecutive no-out walks. Schoop continued his offensive tear by cranking a double, his 11th of the season, to the right-center field gap to tie the game at 2.
“His presence in our lineup when it rolls around, it’s just different,” Hinch said. “We know he’s capable of doing anything.”
He clobbered his 15th home run — and his 12th since May 27 — in the fifth inning off of Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley for a 4-2 lead. He tagged the 96 mph fastball 372 feet into the Tigers’ bullpen in left field.
Four pitches into the fourth inning, the Tigers took a 3-2 lead and chased Gant. He served up a 1-2 changeup to Cameron, who drove the baseball 407 feet to left field — clearing the outfield wall with ease. The rookie’s hit produced a 104.9 mph exit velocity.
It was Cameron’s third home run in nine games this season, and second in three games.
“He looks like a big leaguer, doesn’t he?” Hinch said. “Everything he does has very confident actions, and he’s learning his way and contributing every time I give him an opportunity. I think last year’s experience is contributing to this year’s comfort. … I love how Daz goes about it.”
The 24-year-old, called up when Derek Hill went to the injured list earlier this month, continues to impress in his second stint in the majors. He was called up for 17 games last season but looked uncomfortable, especially in the batter’s box.
Cameron is the Tigers’ No. 8 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
His home run convinced Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to remove Gant from the game. He allowed three runs on two hits and four walks, with four strikeouts, in three-plus innings. He threw 34 of 70 pitches for strikes.
In the sixth inning, the Tigers pushed their lead to three runs. A Jake Rogers sacrifice bunt moved two runners into scoring position, and Baddoo slapped a one-out single into right field. Willi Castro scored easily, but Paredes was tagged out by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina after getting sent home by third base coach Chip Hale.
Paredes later had a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to put the Tigers ahead by four runs.
Welcome to Comerica Park
In his Comerica Park debut, Manning only managed four swings and misses. He earned three whiffs with his fastball and one whiff with his changeup.
Despite not getting many swings and misses, he tallied 17 called strikes, which came on eight fastballs, five sliders, three changeups and one curveball. Entering Wednesday’s start, Manning knew he needed to throw fewer fastballs and land his secondary pitches for strikes early in counts.
Against the Cardinals, he did just that.
“He’s a confident guy,” Schoop said. “He is not scared. He attacked the hitters, and he’s here for a reason. That means he’s good. He just has to get the experience and keep learning. Every start he’s going to learn something different and try to keep it rolling.”
Manning threw 51 fastballs (64% of 80 pitches), 15 sliders, 12 changeups and two curveballs. His fastball fluctuated between the upper 80s and the mid 90s, which wasn’t expected. Still, his go-to pitch averaged 92 mph. He said he wasn’t sure why his fastball velocity was down.
But Manning was efficient, using 14 pitches in the first inning, 12 in the second, 17 in the third, 16 in the fourth, 10 in the fifth and 11 pitches to get two outs in the sixth. Once he gets more comfortable, expect the Tigers to let him pitch deeper into games.
“It wasn’t as sharp as I wanted it to be, but I executed the game plan,” Manning said. “I’m just happy the ball fell my way today. There’s some stuff I got to keep working on, and we’re just going to get ready for next time.”
The first run Manning conceded came in the second inning. Nolan Arenado belted his 1-1 slider to left field, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. It was Arenado’s 14th homer of the season. In the third, Tommy Edman singled to score Lars Nootbaar — who doubled to deep right-center field because Cameron was positioned in shallow left-center — for a two-run edge.
Toward the end of his outing, Manning worked around a one-out double in the fourth and a two-out walk in the fifth. In the sixth, Manning gave up a single to Paul Goldschmidt and walked Molina with two outs to put two runners on.
“He was really good,” Hinch said. “His first home start, I’m sure there were still some nerves in there. He was able to corral himself and stay in the strike zone. I thought he spun his breaking ball pretty good, and one of the things that I thought was important was how he responded after Arenado hit the homer. He continued to be aggressive and continued to mix his pitches.”
That’s when Hinch called on Soto, a hard-throwing lefty.
Soto then struck out Matt Carpenter, a left-handed hitter, with a 98 mph fastball to end the sixth.
“Had it been a different part of the order, it might have been Cisnero in that spot or Fulmer in that spot,” Hinch said. “When the situation is developing, what I have learned about managing is the game can be critical at any point. That’s why I don’t want to assign innings to guys and don’t want them in rigid roles.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.