Tigers pushing rookie Matt Manning to add elusive slider to mix

Detroit News

Detroit – Truth be told, the Tigers would’ve preferred to push Matt Manning’s next start to Monday in Texas and let him have an extra bullpen session to work through some things.

“But the way our pitching lined up (having to play a doubleheader in Cleveland and with no off days until the All-Star break), it didn’t allow for that,” manager AJ Hinch said.

So, Manning, coming off a pummeling in Cleveland (nine runs in 3.2 innings), will take the ball against the White Sox Sunday. Needless to say, much was crammed into his between-starts work this week.

Hinch said pitching coach Chris Fetter and Manning focused on two areas — fastball command and reincorporating a slider into the mix.

“He’s a young pitcher who is trying to find his way and we have to be very careful with him,” Hinch said. “We can’t complicate things with complex game plans, so fastball command is going to be very important. He got beat up in Cleveland precisely because he couldn’t throw his fastball where he wanted to.

“That freed up their hitters to attack how they wanted.”

Fetter and Manning worked on tweaking his delivery, trying to take away some of the glove-side run he was getting on his four-seam fastball which was causing too many pitches to leak over the heart of the plate.

The second issue has been a persistent one for Manning — his love-hate relationship with the slider. In spring training two years ago, former pitching coach Rick Anderson essentially told Manning to scrap the pitch. He’s since reworked it, but the results have been spotty.

“We’re still flirting with the idea of having two breaking balls, a slider to go with his curveball,” Hinch said. “It’s something he could use against left-handers and right-handers. He had it in spring, then he put it in his back pocket when he went to Triple-A.

“We’re trying to incorporate the feel for a little shorter breaking ball that he can take into a game at some point.”

Statcast has read most of Manning’s curveballs as sliders, but Manning said the only secondary pitch he’s thrown with spin has been the curve. He’s thrown 43 of them and hasn’t produced a single swing and miss. Hitters are 3 for 9 with a homer off it.

His best secondary pitch has been his change-up, which he throws at 87 mph off a 93-mph fastball.

“It’s a lot of stuff to get done in a five-day span,” Hinch said.

But, this is what it looks like when you are trying to develop a young player on the fly at the big-league level. Injuries to veteran starters Julio Teheran, Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have forced the Tigers to accelerate Manning’s ascent.

Twitter@cmccosky

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