Detroit Tigers’ Matt Manning brilliant; bullpen blows lead in 5-4 loss vs. Chicago White Sox

Detroit Free Press

CHICAGO — Detroit Tigers rookie Matt Manning went out with his best performance yet.

Making his 18th and final start of his MLB debut season, the 23-year-old posted five scoreless innings and a career-high seven strikeouts against the Chicago White Sox. He gave the Tigers a chance to win, but three relievers — Jose Urena, Alex Lange and Kyle Funkhouser — blew a four-run lead at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The Tigers were handed a 5-4 loss Saturday on Yoan Moncada’s two-run home run off Funkhouser in the bottom of the eighth inning. White Sox closer Liam Hendricks put away the Tigers (76-85) in the ninth. Detroit has lost six of its past seven games.

“They just found some ways to move the ball forward and do some things,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We didn’t make great pitches and they had their best at-bats of the night in the seventh inning or later. That’s why they’re a good team.”

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Mann of the night

Manning exited his start after 69 pitches and five innings. He seemed ready to continue his dominance, but Hinch replaced him with reliever Urena because the top of Chicago’s order was due up for the sixth. Although Manning’s outing was cut short, it was a step in the right direction.

“He’s a very young pitcher pitching in October for the first time in his life,” Hinch said. “I’m going to end on a high note. Five innings was plenty. It’s all I really wanted coming into the game. With the journey that Matt had this season, that was a no-brainer for me.”

This season was not easy for Manning: The ex-top prospect finished with a 5.80 ERA, 33 walks and 57 strikeouts over 85⅓ innings. He came up from Triple-A Toledo and made his big-league debut June 16 against the Los Angeles Angels.

But a superb showing against the leaders of the American League Central should give him confidence entering next year’s spring training, when he will try to earn a spot in the 2022 Opening Day starting rotation.

Upon taking the mound Saturday, Manning made his third straight start against the White Sox, previously facing them Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 at Comerica Park. He allowed three runs over five innings in the first matchup, followed by six runs across 3⅓ innings the second time around.

Manning became the first Tigers pitcher to face the same opponent in three consecutive starts — within a single season — since Jim Slaton and Milt Wilcox did it against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

How Manning did it

From the onset, Manning set the tone for his success.

He sent down Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Jose Abreu in order for a perfect first inning. He needed just 10 pitches, throwing eight for strikes. (Manning struck out Robert with his 96 mph fastball.) After cruising through a perfect second, Manning faced adversity for the first time in the third.

The right-hander walked Adam Engel with one out, then Tim Anderson singled with two outs. But Robert struck out swinging on a slider, and Manning marched back to his dugout. He escaped the jam with his third strikeout.

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Manning also struck out two batters in a perfect fourth. He punched out Abreu looking at a 95 mph fastball for the first out and earned the third out when Eloy Jimenez struck out on Manning’s third-pitch 97 mph fastball.

Moncada crushed a leadoff double in the fifth, but Manning worked around the trouble by putting away his next three opponents. Gavin Sheets struck out swinging on a 94 mph fastball, Engel lined out to center field and Leury Garcia struck out swinging on a filthy curveball.

Of his 69 pitches, Manning threw 49 strikes. He turned to 35 four-seam fastballs (51%), 13 two-seam fastballs (19%), eight changeups (12%), eight sliders (12%) and five curveballs (7%). Manning generated his eight swings and misses on three two-seamers, two four-seamers, one changeup, one slider and one curveball.

His fastball averaged 94.8 mph and maxed out at 97.9 mph.

Grossman joins 20/20 club

In the fourth inning, Robbie Grossman singled off White Sox starter Lucas Giolito. Before Saturday’s game, Grossman expressed his desire for his 20th stolen base. He was going to run, no matter what, if he reached safely.

“That’s the plan,” Grossman said Saturday afternoon.

The 32-year-old kept his promise in the fourth, stealing second base and becoming the seventh player in franchise history to have at least 20 stolen bases and 20 home runs. He joined Kirk Gibson (1984-87), Alan Trammell (1986-87), Chad Curtis (1995), Damion Easley (1997), Gary Sheffield (2007) and Curtis Granderson (2007, 2009)

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Grossman then advanced to third base on Miguel Cabrera’s flyout to center. Jeimer Candelario lined a two-out single to left field, giving Grossman more than enough time to scamper home for a 1-0 lead in the fourth.

Facing White Sox reliever Dallas Keuchel, the Tigers tacked on three more runs with two outs in the seventh inning. Eric Haase (single), Daz Cameron (double) and Grossman (single) drove in the runs for a 4-0 advantage.

Bullpen fails

The Tigers nearly squandered the lead in the bottom of the seventh, as Urena struggled early in his second inning of work against Yasmani Grandal (double), Jimenez (strikeout), Moncada (RBI double) and Sheets (RBI single).

Pitching coach Chris Fetter went to the mound for a visit.

Urena responded to his instructions by striking out Engel on three pitches. Hinch replaced him with rookie reliever Alex Lange, who gave up back-to-back singles. Anderson’s RBI single trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 4-3.

Fetter returned to the mound.

Just as Urena had, Lange responded to Fetter’s instructions by striking out Robert on three pitches — all curveballs — to complete the seventh. He stranded runners on second and third base. In the eighth, Funkhouser notched a pair of strikeouts before walking Jimenez.

That’s when Moncada blasted his go-ahead home run.

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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