North Port, Fla. – As Matt Manning was walking back to the visitor’s clubhouse Sunday after throwing two strong innings against the heart of the Braves' regular lineup in his first-ever Grapefruit League outing, veteran Ivan Nova was in the tunnel talking to reporters.
“Great job,” Nova said, giving the Tigers’ No. 2-rated prospect as a fist-bump.
“Great job by you,” Manning said.
This is one of the endearing things about spring training games, the convergence of old and young. Nova, 33 and beginning his 11th season, needed just 22 pitches to throw two scoreless innings in the Tigers' 5-1 win at the Braves new spring home, CoolToday Park.
Manning was warming up in the bullpen and he watched Nova dispatch Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley.
“You know who they are, you see their lineup,” Manning said. “But coming out of the bullpen and seeing Nova go through it gave me some confidence. Once I stepped out there I just thought it was another hitter.”
There were no available radar gun readings, but judging from the Braves’ swings, Manning’s fastball was popping. He also mixed in his curve ball and change-up.
"He had something behind it," catcher Eric Haase said. "That was the story all day. He mixed his pitches well. He was super composed out there and he attacked. He looked like he knew what he wanted to do and he executed.
If he was awe-struck at all about facing such a talented big-league lineup, he didn't show it.
He got the first batter he faced, catcher William Contreras, to ground out softly to third. He got ahead of Acuna Jr., 1-2, before inducing a soft ground ball into the hole at shortstop. Harold Castro fielded it but threw wildly to first.
Manning got ahead of Albies, too, 1-2, and threw him back-to-back change-ups. Albies reached out on the second one and flipped it into left field for a single, moving the runner to third.
“I thought it was a real good pitch, but he was able to beat the shift,” Manning said. “That’ll happen.”
Did he second-guess the pitch selection?
“Not at all,” he said. “I think it was the right pitch. I got him to take a bad swing. That’s just how it goes. I just have to do a better job of not letting them score.”
Freeman hit a first-pitch fastball to center, deep enough to score the run from third. Manning got three quick outs in the fourth inning.
“Those first four batters I faced, I think if I can do that every time I’m going to be OK,” Manning said. “It’s a little confidence boost.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire is tasked with tamping down the hype for the crop of elite young pitchers he's got in camp, but every time Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal or Alex Faedo take the mound, it's hard to hold the praise.
"He's got good stuff," he said. "He's one of these tall, lanky guys that has that angle where the ball jumps on you. Like it hits a second gear when it gets about halfway to the plate.
"He was getting a lot of bad swings."
Manning did not throw a slider Sunday, but he’s getting close to putting that pitch in his tool bag. He struggled with it early in camp and pitching coach Rick Anderson told him to take it back to the lab and work out the kinks.
“I changed some stuff up,” Manning said. “I’m trying to stay taller (in the delivery). Right now my curve is coming out of the same plane as my fastball. I’m working on (the slider). I got a little more consistency with it. In my live BPs I got good feedback from it, so I think it’s going to play.”
Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin talked to Manning after facing him on Tuesday.
“He told me that it looked like my arm was coming out of the sky, that it was tough to see,” Manning said. “If a guy like that tells you good things, I’m going to keep doing it.”
Stuff aside, Gardenhire has been impressed with the poise and confidence of these young pitchers.
"I just believe that's who they are," he said. "These guys are confident in what they can do, that's just the mannerisms they have. Every one of them. They've got that 'we-know-what-we-can-do' mindset.
"That's good to have. We've got a bunch of players coming over here not afraid."
The Tigers banged out four straight first-inning singles and scored two runs off Braves starter Bryse Wilson. Base hits by second base prospect Kody Clemens, Harold Castro, non-roster invitee Frank Schwindel loaded the bases and Jordy Mercer’s liner to right-center scored two.
Victor Reyes, who had two hits, tripled and scored on a ground out by Clemens in the third. Reyes also ran down three well-struck line drives in center field while Nova was pitching.
“I felt pretty good,” Nova said. “I wanted to work on commanding my fastball, my four-seam and I did that. It was pretty efficient. I did what I wanted to do, especially with those balls they hit to center field. I don’t want them to pull it, make them hit it to the big part of the field.”
That strategy should play particularly well at spacious Comerica Park this summer.
It was a Sunday sweep for the Tigers, as the other split-squad group beat the Pirates 8-4 in Bradenton.
It was a home run fest -- JaCoby Jones, Derek Hill, Daniel Pinero and minor-league invitee Riley Greene all homered for the Tigers. Greene, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, walked twice, scored twice and made an impressive catch in the outfield.
Two of the Tigers' pitching prospects got some work, too. Mize, the club's top prospect, gave up three hits and two runs, but struck out the last two batters he faced in his one inning.
Faedo allowed two hits and struck out two in 1.2 innings.
Right-hander Dario Agrazal, a non-roster invitee the Tigers claimed off waivers from the Pirates, pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit with a strikeout in the game against the Braves. Lefty Gregory Soto and right-hander Jose Cisnero -- who could see some late-inning action in the Tigers' pen this season -- pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings.
... Sandy Baez, a non-roster right-hander who has lost some 40 pounds, pitched a scoreless ninth.
... Brady Policelli and Cole Peterson, two young players still in A-ball, each singled in runs.