Why Detroit Tigers SP Matt Manning’s 4-run outing was actually among his best yet

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers rookie Matt Manning wasn’t happy.

He just watched the Minnesota Twins hand his team a 6-5 loss in the 10th inning. Max Kepler hit a walk-off single with two outs off Gregory Soto‘s 42nd pitch of the night Monday at Target Field. Needing a win, the Tigers were dealt their fourth loss in a row.

Nobody was happy.

“It’s a tough loss any time it’s in extras,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And walk-offs suck.”

“Very frustrating,” catcher Eric Haase added. “Our bullpen comes in, they’re working their tails off. To lose like that is very frustrating. They and I both feel they were executing pitches and, you know, not a whole lot of calls.”

The Twins broke a tie in the sixth inning when Brent Rooker smacked Manning’s hanging curveball for a solo home run. Manning walked Jorge Polanco before Hinch pulled him at 74 pitches for Jose Cisnero, a decision the skipper doesn’t regret.

Josh Donaldson crushed the second pitch Cisnero thew to center field for a 5-2 lead.

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It’s clear why Manning didn’t seem pleased. But the reality is, he pitched his best yet in the seventh start of his MLB career. He explained after his game, telling how he developed a new pitch under the tutelage of Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter. These are signs of maturity, similar to what everyone saw earlier in the season with fellow rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal.

“I’m trying to just get better with every start,” Manning, 23, said. “I’m pretty disappointed with how this one finished out, but I’m just trying to get better with every one, win as many games as I can and eat up as many innings as I can.”

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It starts with a new pitch.

“I learned a two-seamer,” Manning said. “I worked on it a couple days ago, so I broke it out today.”

Manning found the feel for a two-seam fastball in four days between starts. His last time out, he allowed two runs (one unearned) on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings against the Texas Rangers. His results were aided by the revamped slider, which he has worked on since the beginning of July.

With the two-seamer, the goal is to get more horizontal movement.

“Go in to righties, try to run it off the plate a little bit,” Manning said. “Just another look.”

Manning’s pitch mix was superb against the Twins: 26% two-seam fastballs, 24% curveballs, 20% four-seam fastballs, 16% changeups and 14% sliders. Four of his six swings and misses were from his curveball. Not long ago, he was throwing roughly 70% four-seam fastballs. Of his 74 pitches, 47 went for strikes.

“I thought he was able to change pace of his pitches,” Hinch said. “I thought he was able to mix. He got hit a couple times with the Donaldson base hit to right (in the second) and the homer (to Rooker) after we came back and tied the game the first time.”

His fastball averaged just 93 mph, but the velocity should improve with time. Right now, Manning is focused on crafting his repertoire and learning to keep opponents guessing — known as the art of pitching.

And Manning likes the two-seam fastball.

“It’s the first time that I’ve been able to try new things and just go out there and throw pitches with conviction,” Manning said. “Try stuff out and see what works and see what doesn’t. I’m going to keep using it.”

The next development: Manning’s curveball.

Outside of the sixth-inning solo shot to Rooker, the curveball was Manning’s best pitch. To go with four swings and misses, the average spin rate was 2,347 rpm — an 81-rpm increase from his season-long average. He struck out Rooker in the first inning, Trevor Larnach in the fourth and Jake Cave in the fifth with his curveball.

“I was able to throw it pretty good from the first inning on, so I used it heavily,” Manning said. “It’s just another thing I can use when something doesn’t feel as good. Just more weapons at my disposal.”

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The improvement stems from Manning closing his fingers on his curveball grip to get more spin. His spin rate on this pitch maxed out at 2,498 rpm in Monday’s start.

Manning wasn’t perfect, but he adjusted nicely twice in the past four days, adding a two-seam fastball and altering his curveball grip. As a result, he allowed four runs — two before the sixth inning — on five hits and one walk across five-plus innings, with four strikeouts. (He has a 6.00 ERA, 11 walks and 17 strikeouts over 33 innings in seven starts.)

“I thought Manning took a step forward today,” Hinch said, “both emotionally and certainly with his performance.”

And Manning agreed.

“I feel like I’ve come a long way. I’m just getting better as I go out there. I think I’m pitching a lot better than what some of the stats show, and I’m putting our team in a good position to win for the most part when I go out there. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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