Gregory Soto implodes, spoils Matt Manning’s start as Tigers fall to Rays

Detroit News

Detroit — Tigers manager AJ Hinch was at a loss to explain closer Gregory Soto’s collapse in the top of the ninth Sunday.

“I’ve had him on both sides,” he said. “He’s escaped so many of them you always think he’s one-pitch away, and he literally was … But there are no alarm bells, no exact reason why it happens.

“But it frustrates everyone, including Gregory.”

Soto was one out away from sending the game to the bottom of the ninth scoreless when things unraveled. He walked Yu Chang and Yandy Diaz with the bases loaded and the Rays went on to score seven two-out runs, taking the finale of the series 7-0 at Comerica Park.

“There were two outs and a runner at first,” Hinch said. “You feel like you are still in command of everything. Even after a soft double (by Francisco Mejia), you are still control.

“It looked like Soto just lost his command of everything. It was a disappointing ending but it doesn’t tell the whole story of the day.”

BOX SCORE: Rays 7, Tigers 0

With the Tigers these days — now 24 games under .500 (43-67) — you take your pockets of light where you can find them. And right-hander Matt Manning provided a big one.

In his second start back after missing more than three months with a shoulder injury, Manning blanked the Rays on four hits over seven innings, tying his career-high with seven strikeouts.

“This was as complete an arsenal as he’s shown in recent memory, for sure,” Hinch said. “I’m sure he’s had more powerful stuff last year at the end, but I thought he was excellent.”

He covered the seven innings efficiently in 95 pitches, despite some early fastball command issues and three walks.

“I think today I took it real personal to give the bullpen a break,” Manning said. “They’ve been working their (butts) off. It stinks (today) but they’ve been working really hard.”

The efficiency, the length of the start, the ability to stay sharp through seven innings— all positive signs for a young pitcher the Tigers are trying to develop into a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse. Missing so much of the season, it’s vital he throws as many innings as possible the rest of the way to limit or avoid restrictions next season.

“To protect him, I could’ve taken him out after six,” Hinch said. “But I’m walking that line of challenging him to go deeper in games. Also, he was in complete control of the at-bats and the innings. And he just went out there and cruised through the seventh.

“Given the way the industry is, it’s nice to have a starting pitcher go seven innings and escape without having to answer questions about why I didn’t take him out after 85 pitches.”

But it was the way Manning attacked the Rays that impressed. He ascended through the minor leagues with a high-octane heater. On Sunday he threw 47 four-seamers with a milder average velocity of 92 mph. But after the first two innings, he was able to freeze hitters with it, throwing it off his secondary pitches (eight called strikes with the fastball).

“I was able to command my pitches when I needed to,” Manning said. “I was spraying it a little bit, but when I had to I made the pitches necessary. I thought it was good to get deep in the game just to test where I am.”

With Tucker Barnhart calling the game, Manning expertly mixed his slider (his most effective pitch on this day), curve, changeup and sinker. He threw just five changeups but got four swings and misses with it.

“Right when they think fastball, or when they’ve seen all my pitches — it’s kind of my fourth pitch,” Manning said. “I really like to use it, it’s just been one that’s tough to find opportunities for. I’d like to use it more.”

All told, he ended up with a career-high 13 swings and misses and 16 called strikes, leaving the game a scoreless tie.

“Tucker was putting down good fingers all day,” said Manning, now the third Tigers starter to post seven shutout innings this season (Tarik Skubal, twice, and Beau Brieske). “It’s easy just to trust whatever he’s doing and just execute pitches.”

The Tigers’ offense, though, after scoring nine runs Saturday, was having its own issues trying to score.

After being no-hit for the first three innings by Rays starter Drew Rasmussen, left-handed hitting Riley Greene greeted lefty reliever Jalen Beeks with a line double into the right field corner.

Greene made a good read and advanced to third on a slow ground ball to short by Willi Castro. With the Rays’ infield drawn in, Javier Baez hit a ground ball right at shortstop Yu Chang. Greene, going on contact, was thrown out at the plate.

That was as close to scoring as the Tigers got.

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It was not immediately revealed why Rasmussen was removed from the game, but in terms of matchups, it seemed to work in the Rays’ favor.

Hinch built his lineup for the right-hander Rasmussen, starting left-handed hitting Kody Clemens, Harold Castro, Greene and Barnhart, a switch-hitter much more productive hitting left-handed.

After one time through the order, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash used left-handed pitchers in Beeks and Brooks Raley from the fourth through the sixth innings, keeping the Tigers’ bats quiet.

“It’s the Rays, they invented that,” Hinch said. “It didn’t shock me the least bit. They are managing workload like a lot of teams are. We knew they were going to go to (lefty Colin) Poche at some point, so we took our shot in the eighth.”

Cash did go to lefty Poche in the bottom of the eighth and Hinch countered with right-handed pinch-hitters Victor Reyes (switch-hitter), Daz Cameron and Eric Haase, but the results were the same. Nada.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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