Twins 4, Tigers 2: Kenta Maeda outduels Matt Manning

Bless You Boys

Matt Manning took a really nice step in this one, but the offense struggled to come up with key hits and a bad sixth inning sank their chances as the Twins won 4-2.

The loss leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but this game was a win in regard to things that matter long-term, namely starting pitcher Matt Manning. After working on a slider for almost two years with the Tigers player development and previous coaching staff, just a few weeks with Chris Fetter has paid huge dividends. Manning showed off a much improved slider-changeup mix tonight, though plenty of work remains to command his full repertoire under major league conditions.

There were some hard hit balls that found gloves early on, but Manning settled in nicely, throwing less fastballs, and substantially more sliders and changeups than in his first few outings. It was difficult to say whether he was actually trying to use the changeup like a swingback two-seamer, but several times he painted edges with lively changeups and bent them back into the zone, or from inside to outside the zone, getting plenty of fouls, weak contact, and more whiffs than he’s managed thus far in his short MLB career.

The Twins didn’t manage a hit until the fifth inning. With one out, Manning lost his rhythm and walked Jorge Polanco. Max Kepler singled to left, but Miguel Sano swung over a diving slider away to strike out, and Manning got a weak groundout to end the threat.

Of course, Manning’s opposite number, Kenta Maeda, wasn’t having much trouble either. Akil Baddoo led off the game by reaching on a grounder into the shift, as Sano couldn’t handle the throw at first. Unfortunately, Jonathan Schoop struck out and Ben Rortvedt made a perfect throw down to second to catch Baddoo stealing. Robbie Grossman struck out to end the threat.

In the second, Miguel Cabrera led off with his 2927th hit, a single that tied him for 40th place all-time alongside Philadelphia Athletics—among others—great, Al Simmons. The Tigers went quickly 1-2-3 beyond Cabrera.

Robbie Grossman led off the fourth with a walk, but Cabrera struck out and Jeimer Candelario grounded into a double play. So it went.

There was a lot of that sort of thing. The Tigers outhit the Twins 8-4, through the Twins drew four walks to the Tigers two, but they couldn’t string anything together. Maeda used their aggression against them with heavy doses of his splitter and frisbee slider.

Manning finally got into a little trouble in the sixth. Luis Arraez singled to lead off the inning, and Manning was a little too careful with Josh Donaldson, falling behind and eventually throwing a well located 3-2 slider that the veteran slugger wouldn’t bite on. A.J. Hinch decided that was enough, and with lefty Trevor Larnach coming up, turned to Ian Krol in his first appearance for the Tigers in several years, and after many detours along the way.

It didn’t go well. Krol immediately balked the runners up a base. Larnach singled to score Arraez. Nelson Cruz hit a sacrifice fly to plate Donaldson. Alex Kirilloff walked. Krol rebounded to get Jorge Polanco to fly out, but Max Kepler’s sinking liner to left got under Grossman’s glove all the way to the wall, scoring two more runs. Hinch turned to Buck Farmer to finally end the inning by striking out Sano.

Matt Manning’s final line was 5.0 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 3 SO. Plenty of room for improvement, but a big step forward for Manning who looked very much in control of three pitches at times. We’ve been begging for a harder breaking ball like this for five years.

The Tigers wasted another good opportunity in the seventh inning. Candelario led off with a single, and after Eric Haase struck out, Niko Goodrum ripped a single to left, and the Tigers were briefly in business. However ex-Tigers farmhand Caleb Thielbar got Zack Short and Jake Rogers each to pop out, snuffing the threat.

In the eighth, the Tigers finally got on the board. Akil Baddoo beat out a soft grounder to third, and Robbie Grossman blasted his 12th home run to left to make it 4-2 and knock Thielbar out of the game. Unfortunately, that just led to Hansel Robles entering the game. He got the next five outs, allowing just a soft single from Goodrum in the ninth before erasing him on a Short groundball double play to end the game.

Well, that’s two very winnable games lost. Hopefully the Tigers’ bats find their mojo this weekend and carry some good vibes into the All-Star break.

Manning has been optioned back to Toledo after the game, but I suspect this is just procedural to get a few arms up with Peralta and Ureña starting the next two. Either way, he’ll be back soon.

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