After an overabundance of fastballs in his MLB debut June 17 in Anaheim, it wasn’t surprising that 11 of his 14 pitches in the first inning Wednesday went for fastballs.
But Manning, the team’s top pitching prospect, needs to mix all his pitches to succeed.
“One of the best pitches in baseball is the well-located fastball,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said before the game. “I love the fact that Matt Manning trusts his fastball. It’s carried him all the way to this level. But this level is going to have to show him that he can’t pitch the way he’s always pitched.”
In the second inning of Wednesday’s 6-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the 23-year-old put his willingness to adapt on display. The way Manning responded to adversity showed Hinch that his development in the majors is possible. He finished with two runs allowed on five hits and two walks, with one strikeout, over 5⅔ innings to get his first MLB win in his Comerica Park debut.
“I’m happy to call this ballpark my home,” Manning said.
The key moment in the second inning started with back-to-back fastballs to five-time All-Star Nolan Arenado, before Manning’s curveball was hammered for a home run to left field.
“After going inside with two fastballs, I left a curveball down, but it was right in his bat path,” Manning said. “That’s kind of what he looks for. Next time, I got to get it about six inches over, and I think I’ll be all right.”
His next pitch was a breaking ball to Tyler O’Neill, who lined out to shortstop. He zipped another breaking ball in for a first-pitch called strike to Yadier Molina. Two pitches later, Molina flied out to right field for two outs in the second inning.
In the fourth, Manning fired three consecutive breaking balls to Arenado. He wasn’t afraid of missing his spots, even with the pitches he isn’t as confident in throwing. And Manning could have tossed three fastballs, but the easy way out isn’t always best in the development process.
Arenado took the first-pitch breaking ball for a called strike, fouled away the second offering and then grounded out to shortstop.
“I thought he spun his breaking ball pretty good, and one of the things that I thought was important was how he responded after Arenado hit the homer,” Hinch said. “He continued to be aggressive and continued to mix his pitches. … Matt did his job today and showed some characteristics of why we’re really high on him.”
Besides Arenado’s second-inning homer, the only other run scored against Manning occurred in the third inning. Lars Nootbaar drove a fastball into the right-center field gap, and center fielder Daz Cameron — who was stationed in shallow left-center field — couldn’t track it down.
Tommy Edman singled for a 2-0 lead.
Two batters reached in the fourth and fifth innings combined, but Manning avoided damage. A one-out double was all the Cardinals received in the fourth, as Manning mixed his slider, curveball and changeup to help retire Molina and Matt Carpenter.
“I landed some really good curveballs to get them off balance,” Manning said. “I showed that I could throw it for a strike. I wanted to throw more of them for strikes last outing, and this outing, I kind of wanted to throw more for balls. But I’ve got to find a happy medium and put it together for next week.”
Against the Cardinals, Manning threw 51 fastballs, 17 sliders/curveballs and 12 changeups. He only had one strikeout but fired 52 of 80 pitches for strikes. His 64% fastball rate (51-for-80) decreased from the 69% fastball rate (53-for-77) he started his career with in his MLB debut against the Los Angeles Angels.
While those results might seem like a small step, Manning is always going to throw more fastballs than breaking balls. The decrease in fastball usage is a sign that he is willing to listen to Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter.
“He’s a confident guy,” said Jonathan Schoop, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and launched his 15th home run. “He is not scared. He attacked the hitters, and he’s here for a reason. That means he’s good. He just has to get the experience and keep learning. Every start he’s going to learn something different and try to keep it rolling.”
Manning is eager to find holes in his game, learn from his mistakes and establish himself alongside 24-year-old starting pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal as frontline starters of the future. The trio delivered the Tigers — without help from injured starters Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull — three consecutive wins.
And the Tigers need all three of their rookies to keep developing with each start.
“It’s big for our team to get some stability back in the rotation,” Hinch said. “It’s also big for those guys to start to feel it a little bit. They’re facing guys that they recognize the names. (Paul) Goldschmidt and Arenado mean something in this game. In Anaheim, when you see (Shohei) Ohtani, that matters.
“Our guys are learning, growing and having to face some of…
Read More: Rookie Matt Manning shows why Detroit Tigers are ‘really high on him’