Minneapolis — Thank goodness Tarik Skubal and Tyler Alexander are still here, otherwise Matt Manning might’ve thought he walked into the wrong clubhouse Monday.
“I know, right?” he said. “I feel like I’m debuting all over again.”
Manning, who will make just his third start of season here Tuesday, hasn’t been on a big-league mound since April 16. He came out of the game that day in Kansas City thinking he had some minor soreness in his shoulder and he’d be back in a couple of weeks. He’s been gone three and a half months.
The Tigers have used 15 different starting pitchers while he was gone.
“I’ve never had to do rehab during the middle of the season before,” Manning said. “Just watching Tigers games on television every day and see the state of the team – you just want to be there with those guys.
“Mentally, that’s the most frustrating part.”
Physically, the frustrating part was that the symptoms, the swelling and discomfort, wouldn’t relent. Twice he had his throwing program stopped.
“Had really good starts building up, but right when I was getting to the peak of it, the timing was bad,” Manning said. “I had to be honest with those guys. The way I was feeling the first time just wasn’t going to last. I figured I needed to get it all done now, don’t further hurt myself.
“Just take a step back and re-evaluate.”
He went 5.2 strong innings in his final rehab start with Triple-A Toledo last week, holding his mid-90s velocity on his fastball from start to finish and commanding his three secondary pitches.
“There are no reins,” he said. “I can go as much as I can. The goal is to eat up as many innings as possible to get ready for next year.”
That’s the vital part of these next two months for Manning. If he stays healthy, he could make 10 or 11 starts. Even with that, he’s not likely to throw more than 100 innings. But that would a much firmer base to build off for 2023 than if he’d lost the entire season.
“That’s a long way away,” manager AJ Hinch said. “When I met with Matty today I said, ‘Hopefully this means we can pitch you on regular rest as much as possible and get as many starts and as many innings as we can.’
“Because we’re behind where we would’ve been from a work standpoint.”
Manning pitched 85 innings last season. The load management governor was supposed to be off this season. It remains to be seen whether he’ll have restrictions in 2023.
“Decisions for next year will happen next year,” Hinch said. “But we need to get him as many healthy starts as he can handle. He’s still developing. He needs to find his own in the big leagues and with the broken seasons, he hasn’t had that.”
Meadows: Take 3
Outfielder Austin Meadows (tendonitis in both Achilles tendons) did a full baseball workout before the game and ran on grass for the first time since his second rehab assignment was shut down on July 7.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’ve progressed to running with no issues. Next step is putting on cleats and running the bases.”
Meadows has been working out in Lakeland the past two weeks. The Tigers brought him to Minneapolis to assess where he’s at relative to planning out his next rehab assignment.
“It’s baby steps,” Hinch said. “He’s getting a little better and he’s doing a little bit more. He’s going to stay with us and go home with us to Detroit and increase his running and hopefully that leads to an assignment in the not-too-distant future.”
Meadows, sidelined with vertigo and COVID, as well, has been out since June 15 and has only played in 36 games.
“It’s been frustrating,” Meadows said. “I’ve never had anything like this before, such a rare injury. I’ve just had to be patient with it, stay in touch with my doctors trying to figure out what’s going on and a timeline for all of this.
“But I’m just glad to be here now taking the next step.”
Meadows has gotten specially-made orthotics in his shoes and cleats, which he hopes will alleviate the pain once he starts running bases and at game speed. He still feels sore and tight in the morning and then gradually better throughout the day – which is common with tendonitis.
There have been days when he’s contemplated just pulling the plug on the season.
“You definitely have those thoughts but you have to keep pushing, keep fighting,” he said. “You have your low points when you are hurt. You just want to be out there with the guys. It’s been a tough time, a learning process – a growing process.
“I have a good support system around me to get through it. I know this will make me stronger.”
Around the horn
…Coach Gary Jones was back in his first base coaching box for the first time since leaving the team after testing for COVID two weeks ago. “He said if he had to spend one more day by himself in his apartment watching the games on TV he was going to lose his mind.”
…Shortstop Javier Báez was not in the starting lineup Monday, a day off after making two errors in the game Sunday. He leads big league fielders with 15 errors. Willi Castro started at shortstop.
Tigers at Twins
When: 7:40 p.m. Tuesday, Target Center, Minneapolis
RHP Matt Manning (0-0, 2.25), Tigers: The last time we saw Manning on the mound in a big-league game was in Kansas City on April 16 when he left after two innings with shoulder soreness. Three and a half months and six rehab starts later, he is finally back. If he can stay in the rotation, he should get 10 starts or so the rest of the way, vitally important in terms of what workload restrictions he might face in 2023.
RHP Chris Archer (2-5, 4.04), Twins: This will be his third start since coming off the injured list (wrist) and the first two didn’t go well (10 runs in 7.2 innings). They don’t call him an opener, but he rarely goes more than two times a batting order, average four innings a start. Two of his best outings have come against the Tigers, allowing one run in each, covering a total of nine innings.