Game 129 preview: Matt Manning tests improvements against surging Mariners

Bless You Boys

Twenty-one seasons is a long, long time in baseball terms. With 34 games left on their 2022 schedule, the Seattle Mariners are currently a half game up on the Toronto Blue Jays and holding the fifth playoff spot in the new six team format. To break a playoff drought that stretches back to 2001, the Mariners need to finish strong. So expect the Detroit Tigers, featuring the mirror image of the Mariners 70-58 record, to have their hands full as this three-game set begins on Tuesday night. Either way, it is nice to have some fresh opposition. Whatever the outcome, it’ll be good to get a look at the up-and-coming Mariners for a few games.

Fortunately, the Tigers’ offense, which has finally showed some sustained glimpses of life recently, won’t be facing the Mariners dynamic duo. Neither right-hander Luis Castillo, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline, nor left-hander Robbie Ray, will be starting a game in the series. Even so, the Mariners pitching staff has been improved beyond the addition of Castillo, with a bullpen that struggled some in the first half really picking up the pace in August. This could be a fun series, or the Tigers might just get trucked by a club that has everything to play for right now.

Led by star rookie and likely Rookie of the Year winner, Julio Rodriguez, a solid but hardly spectacular Mariners offense will test the ongoing breakout of Matt Manning on Tuesday night. With his new and improved slider, the young right-hander has put together a nice run since finally returning from a first half of the season spent on the injured list. Over five starts, Manning has averaged six innings per outing while allowing just eight runs overall and seeing his strikeout rate ticking up significantly. This would make for a huge development if he can sustain it, and facing the Mariners at home isn’t too much to ask as the young right-hander looks to put two seasons of relative stagnation due to the COVID year and then shoulder trouble this season, behind him.

Detroit Tigers (50-78) at Seattle Mariners (70-58)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m EDT/Comerica Park, Detroit, MI

SB Nation Site: Lookout Landing

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.tv, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Matt Manning (1-1, 2.37 ERA) vs. RHP George Kirby (5-3, 3.32 ERA)

Game 129 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Manning 38.0 3.23 20.3 5.9 0.71 1.0
Kirby 97.2 3.19 24.9 3.2 1.11 2.1

Matt Manning’s five start run since coming off the IL has been pretty impressive. With a rebuilt slider that he’s showing signs of manipulating the break on, and finally getting consistent whiffs with something other than his fastball, the 24-year-old Manning appears to be getting stronger from outing to outing. We’re still not seeing quite his previous peak fastball velocities yet, but as the slider has improved, the velo and movement on the fourseamer is improving bit-by-bit as well. If he can just get some uninterrupted progression, we may finally see Manning coming into his own. And hey maybe he’ll hold up where Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal could not.

The Mariners should be a tough opponent, but the foundation for Manning remains tied to the fact that he can pump fourseam fastballs and basically never get his hard doing so. With his huge extension and pretty low release point, 5-foot-7 inches from a pitcher who stands 6-foot-6, Manning presents a difficult look and despite metrics that don’t obviously pop off the page, he’s proven that he can not only get whiffs, but that his fastball is extraordinarily hard to lift. That combination is tough for hitters already, as the big blow just never seems to land against him, and with his rebuilt slider Manning is proving quite frustrating for hitters to deal with. Hopefully he can keep that going through the final month of the season.

On the other side, George Kirby is going to be a problem for Tigers’ hitters. With a pretty immaculate strikeout-to-walk ratio, the only flaw in the ointment is his home run rate, which remains a bit high. However, those home run marks are out of date as Kirby has followed the Mariners’ approach with several pitchers this season, ditching his cutter, adding a sinker to pair with his fourseamer, and doing a much better job avoiding ambush as a result. He’ll mix in a curveball as his offspeed offering, and tends to break out the slider more when he’s already got a hitter down in the count. The evolution in approach has seen his strikeout rates soaring over the past two months, while the walk rate remains very low. He hasn’t allowed a home run since June.

With such a heavy volume of strike throwing and so few walks, this could go one of two ways against a still impatient Tigers’ lineup. Kirby may pitch his way into some early trouble simply by throwing too many strikes against a team that loves to swing early and often. Or, he may get a ton of weak contact, pitch some quick innings, and put together a really strong and efficient outing that preserves the Mariners bullpen and keeps Tigers’ hitters from getting a look at many of them in the game of the series. That latter outcome certainly seems more likely, despite better success from the Tigers’ offense recently.

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