Tigers pitcher Matt Manning locked in solely on competing, winning

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It wasn’t totally alarming what Tigers manager AJ Hinch said about right-hander Matt Manning on Monday. It wasn’t a bombshell statement or anything like that.

But it was a firmer declaration that you might’ve expected.

“Matt deserves to be on our team,” Hinch said. “We’d like Matt to be in the rotation. How he grew throughout the course of his season in the big leagues is something we need to pay attention to. He doesn’t need to be perfect this spring.

“But I’m going to apply the right amount of pressure knowing he’s a big part of our future. He needs to break camp with us.”

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The thought entering camp was that 24-year-old Manning still had to fight to retain his spot in the rotation. The 6-6, 210-pounder made 18 starts last season and at one point allowed 30 earned runs in 42.1 innings with opponents hitting .303 against him.

As Hinch said, though, he never sagged, never got discouraged, never stopped growing. By the end of the season, he was mixing three secondary pitches effectively off his mid-to-upper-90s fastball.

A work-in-progress still? Certainly. But Hinch made it clear, Manning’s development will continue where it started — against big-league hitters. And that is music to Manning’s ears.

“For sure,” he said. “It definitely helps. Any confidence a manager has in you, you can take it and run with it. It felt really good. We talked the other day for a little bit and he said whenever I take the mound he feels very comfortable and feels good about it.

“That kind of confidence and that kind of trust, it means the world to me.”

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Especially after what he’s gone through the last couple of years. A first-round pick back in 2016, Manning was dominant up through Double-A ball. He struck out 302 hitters in 251.1 innings in 2018 and 2019. But the road got bumpy after that. He didn’t pitch competitively in 2020, because of the pandemic and an arm injury.

The Tigers held him back at the start of last season and then started him in Triple-A, where he struggled. Out of necessity, after a rash of injuries to starting pitchers, they promoted him to the big leagues, knowing he’d have to take some beatings while he tried to grow up against the best hitters in the world.

And he survived.

“After not pitching in 2020 and then getting hurt and delaying my start to 2021, all that stuff, the COVID protocols, it was all different,” Manning said. “Once we got into it and got into a flow I started feeling comfortable. Getting to live out your dream, getting to the big leagues, that was a lot and I loved it.

“But now all my focus can go on getting hitters out.”

Manning said despite the gains he made last season, he still hasn’t had what he’d consider his, in his words, “I’ve arrived” moment. But it’s coming.

More: Two recently retired former Tigers join MLB Network as studio analysts

“Just take what I did last year and build on it,” he said. “It’s really just pitching with conviction and not worrying about all the baseball business. Like being sent down and brought back up. Pitching to win and having a lot of conviction in it, just pitching to hitters and having a good game plan.

“That’s where I can really take the next step.”

Feels so good

The first person right-hander Alex Faedo sought out Tuesday after he threw his first official live bullpen since coming back from Tommy John surgery was Corey Tremble. He grabbed the Tigers medical and rehabilitation coordinator in a big bear hug and hoisted him off the ground.

It was quite a sight. Tremble had overseen all the anguish and pain Faedo had gone through since the surgery in December of 2020, been with him every step of the way. Lot of emotion there. A group of Faedo’s teammates  stayed after to watch him throw 30 pitches in two innings against Willi Castro, Robbie Grossman and Jeimer Candelario.

“I mean, watching the guys just be out there and supporting me today,” Faedo told reporters. “I think a lot of my buddies out there, they were finished with their day and instead of coming in here and getting lunch, they were out there watching.

“That support goes a long way. So I want to keep trying to do my best to help them and help the team.”

More: Monday’s MLB: With Freeman a free agent, Braves get star 1B Olson from A’s

Faedo, the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2017, had thrown two live batting practice sessions on his own during the lockout. Hinch said Faedo is on pace to start the season on time, though at what level is to be determined.

“It was great to see him back on the field,” Hinch said. “I know he’s worked really hard to get to this point. I would imagine he was pretty excited just to face some hitters. He’s going to continue to progress and we will see if we can get him in a (spring) game.

“He has a long road still to develop and see if he can help us this year. But I was impressed today.”

Around the horn

…As the Tigers continue to search for more pitching depth (especially a veteran big-league starter), Hinch offered a friendly bit of advice to free agents still mulling offers: “If guys are signing around the league to compete for a job, you kind of have to hurry and get into camp. Hopefully they come in shape. We don’t have a ton of evaluation time.”

…The Tigers added five players on minor-league players on Monday, including veteran pitcher Chase Anderson, who is expected to provide depth starting in Triple-A Toledo. “He was signed to create a lot of competition,” Hinch said. “He’s started. He’s been a bulk reliever before. He has a ton of experience and he was really interested, as we were in taking a look…We know what he’s about. Once we meet him and get into a couple of games, it could be a fast evaluation.”

…The Tigers have set the pitching lineup for the first Grapefruit League game Friday against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium – Eduardo Rodriguez (scheduled to go three innings), Drew Carlton, Will Vest, Jacob Barnes, Bryan Garcia and Joe Jimenez.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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