Matt Manning’s doubleheader call-up an early example of the Tigers depth

Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers have still only played four games as we head into Thursday’s doubleheader against the New York Mets. So it’s far too early to go digging for meaning in the 2024 season beyond being happy they won all four. Still, it is at least interesting that the team has shown its strengths and weaknesses much as predicted in this first glimpse. The pitching, both rotation and bullpen, has been pretty strong. The outfield and catching defense is a strength, the infield less so. And the lineup has been hit and miss but enough to get the job done.

Another key preseason theme is about to make itself felt. The Tigers have better pitching and prospect depth than all but a handful of teams in the league, and the ability to call up Matt Manning to start Game 2 of the makeup day doubleheader is the first example.

The Tigers may win or lose that game. Both teams have been iced for two days. Probably some of the veteran hitters will only play one game as managers look to keep everyone healthy early in the year. It looks like the rain will hold off finally, but the whole coast has been drenched the past few days. Field conditions may be a little interesting and either way it’s going to be a long, chilly afternoon with both teams flying out right afterward to start a new series on Friday. The situation is ripe for a weird day of baseball.

The Tigers can feel good about their starter though. Many teams in the league would have Matt Manning in their starting rotation already For the Tigers to be able to call up a pitcher with a 3.51 ERA in the big leagues over his last 141 innings of work in a tricky spot like this where they really need some good innings is an early indication of how their depth makes them more dangerous than the active roster might appear. The Tigers 40-man roster compares with the rest of the league much better than just the active 26-man roster.

The effect isn’t just about whether the Tigers win Manning’s Game 2. Maybe he pitches really well, maybe he doesn’t, but as long as he can give them solid innings and keep them in the game, that also benefits a bullpen that is currently rested but is looking at playing seven games in six days with two flights involved.

Specifically identifying the potential impact may be tough over the next few games, but you’d rather be in the Tigers position running a pretty solid MLB caliber starting pitcher out there than in the Mets situation of piecing together a bullpen game with a little help called up from the farm. The Mets are currently looking at a far more brutal stretch of 15 games in 14 days, and they’ve got to be careful how far they extend themselves on Thursday.

Maybe it will work out in the Tigers favor. Maybe not. A starting pitcher isn’t as much of a determining factor as once was the case. But if Manning can give them something close to a quality start, and then the bullpen remains a force through the weekend opening home series against the A’s and a quick two-game trip to Pittsburgh on Monday and Tuesday, well it’s all of a piece in terms of the roster. Of course, the bats could also keep everything running smoothly by just wrecking Mets pitching in the doubleheader. We’ll take it every which way we can.

What’s important is that overall, the Tigers should be better prepared for these situations this season, just as they should be for pitcher injuries throughout the year. Manning is just the first obvious example, and just kind of a bonus matchup for the Tigers. To get to deploy their sixth starter against whatever the Mets can run out in Game 2 is advantage Tigers even before we’ve been forced to talk about filling in for injuries and the like as the season progresses.

So far they’ve been very fortunate in the injury department (everyone knock on wood) and even the two interesting arms banged up in camp, starter Sawyer Gipson-Long and reliever Brendan White are returning to action. We’ve talked all spring about the organizational prospect depth in the upper minors, from top shelf prospects like Jackson Jobe and Jace Jung, who need more time to cook, to a wealth of interesting pitchers and hitters who aren’t on that tier but as a group should contribute stability when the Tigers active roster needs help.

Thursday’s doubleheader matchup will be an early example of the Tigers hidden strength down on the farm. Whether they win or lose, they’re better off every time they get to match depth against another team’s depth like this, and so they can’t really complain about the weather circumstances. Take it to them, at least win the series, and come home to a fanbase that will be buzzing like mad.

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