Almost as if he owned the Comerica Park mound, resembling the demeanors of fellow rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal in their outings Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The young arms handed the lowly Texas Rangers three consecutive losses.
“Kind of what everyone expected when we were in Double A (in 2019),” Manning said. “That’s what they wanted to see here, and I think we’re bringing that as best we can. There are going to be some bumps in the road, but we’re showing just a glimpse of what we can do for the next handful of years.”
Look past the three home runs (producing all four runs), Manning was the star of the show for the Tigers (46-51) in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory. In his sixth MLB start, he completed the sixth inning for the first time in his career.
“I know there’s a lot more I can get from myself and make it just that much better,” Manning said. “Hopefully these two-run games turn into no-run games soon.”
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Manning stamped his second win in the big leagues since being called up June 17 from Triple-A Toledo. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks, with four strikeouts, across six innings.
Beyond the box score, the most encouraging sign was Manning’s pitch mix.
“I don’t really care about the mix,” Hinch said before the game. “Everybody gets caught up in pitch mix. I want outs. I don’t care if he throws all fastballs if he gets outs. I think we’ve gotten too cute with having to demand certain percentages of pitches being used. I just want outs.”
“At this level, you got to be adaptable to pitch to outs,” Hinch continued. “Obviously a good mix is always important, but I don’t want that to be at the forefront of his mind when he’s on the mound.”
Manning fired 44 fastballs (57%), 15 changeups (19%), 15 sliders (19%) and 3 curveballs (4%). He picked up seven swings and misses, doing so with seven fastballs, three sliders and one changeup. He landed two sliders and two changeups for called strikes, as well as nine fastballs.
“I think my pitch mix has been really good,” Manning said. “I’ve dropped my fastball usage. It’s keeping hitters off-balance. That’s what I’m trying to do.
“I was just so happy to get through the sixth inning.
Manning pounded the strike zone, throwing 50 of 77 pitches for strikes. He worked quickly, needing just 30 pitches for the first three innings. When John Hicks’ double put the Rangers on the board, Manning wasn’t fazed. (Hicks crushed one of three curveballs Manning used.)
He got back on the mound and retired the next three batters on six pitches. He then pitched his way through a perfect third inning on nine pitches.
Manning walked Adolis Garcia, an American League Rookie of the Year candidate, on five pitches to start the fourth inning. Gallo flied out to left field, and Hicks struck out swinging at a fastball. As Manning battled back, a passed ball allowed by catcher Grayson Greiner advanced Garcia to second base.
David Dahl hit a misplaced first-pitch changeup for an RBI double, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 3-2. Once again, Manning locked back in. He stuck out Eli White swinging to escape the 22-pitch inning.
In the fifth, Manning struck out Charlie Culberson on three pitches. He punched him out with a nasty slider and took down the next two batters.
“His calmness, being in control of his body and his delivery were really good,” Hinch said. “He looked like he was in total command of the game and really settled in as a big league pitcher.”
Within the pitch mix and outs, Manning had another key development: His slider was the best it has been. Three starts ago, he began implementing this pitch back into his arsenal. On Wednesday, the slider averaged 84.7 mph, 2.3 mph faster than his season average.
Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter began asking Manning to incorporate a slider around early July. They also told him to throw more changeups. Skubal received the same request early in the season. He ditched the splitter he spent the offseason developing for a dominant changeup that has taken him to frontline starter status.
“It’s a lot of work to put in, in between starts,” Manning said. “But I’m starting to see it translate into the games and seeing that life back, where I can throw up (in the zone). The big part of it is my pitch mix. I’ve been able to throw the slider and the changeup pretty often. They look very similar to my fastball, so it’s been good for me.”
Hinch added: “Greiner was coming in and saying he was sailing some pitches up and away to righties and in to righties, but he landed a couple breaking balls. He threw some really, really good sliders.”
As for Manning’s velocity, his fastball averaged 92.8 mph. This is the same guy who struck out former National League MVP Bryce Harper with three consecutive fastballs in spring training, finishing him with a 97 mph heater.
Hinch and Manning said not to worry.
“We got to get our heads out of the radar gun and just go into effectiveness,” Hinch said. “He’s putting the ball in the strike zone in some pretty good areas.”
“I’m not going to beat myself up about it,” Manning said. “I know it’s going to come back. I throw the ball hard. Sometimes I get a little too focused on location rather than getting that ride on it. I’m trying to find a mixture of the two.”
There will still be many learning lessons along the way, but Manning pitched the best start of his career. As poorly as the Rangers are playing, they’re still a big league team. It wasn’t an elite outing like some of the starts from Mize and Skubal this season, but Manning seems well on his way.
The Mize-Skubal-Manning show is here. And they’re ready to roll.
“They give me a lot of confidence going out there,” Manning said. “Their words hold a lot of weight. I lean on those guys a lot. It’s a blessing.”
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.