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Matt Manning '100 percent' healthy, back on track for possible 2021 Tigers debut

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Not much to report from the Matt Manning Camp, which unofficially has been set up within the contours of Tigers Instructional Camp at Lakeland, Florida.

Then again, updates from a prized Tigers prospect pitcher are always bulletin-board stuff.

Manning sat in on a Zoom session Tuesday with media and testified, in his ultra-concise way, about several developments 12 days before camp concludes at TigerTown.

Matt Manning

► Manning said he is “100 percent” and that all is fine after the Tigers two months ago halted his 2020 development. Forearm inflammation in his right (pitching) arm was the culprit there, but Manning said again Tuesday that all is well and he’s ready, even now, for 2021.

► Manning revealed casually that Lakeland is now his fulltime address. He owns a home there, in the BridgeWater development, off Lakeland Hills Blvd., minutes north of TigerTown.

Not that the two should be confused – yet – but it might be noted that a guy named Justin Verlander also lived fulltime in Lakeland and owned a swank place there during his years starring for the Tigers. Manning no doubt has found that duplicating Verlander’s real-estate habits is easier than matching his prowess on a mound, but time at least is on Manning’s side.

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Manning is as happy as the Tigers to reveal that all is well with his right arm. He appeared last summer to be on his way to joining two more young stallions, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, as Detroit’s 58-game schedule and rotation evolved, all before his forearm acted up in August, during a stint with the Toledo taxi squad that was part of the Tigers’ 60-man summer roster.

Manning, 22, is known by most Tigers students as Detroit’s first-round pick (ninth overall) in 2016. He is 6-foot-6 and is 225 pounds. He has a fastball that can cruise in the mid-to-slightly higher 90s, a curveball, and a change-up.

Should his arm cooperate, and should a coronavirus begin to wane in 2021, Manning and the Tigers suspect he’ll be back on track next spring or summer for a Comerica Park baptism.

It mostly depends on the pandemic. And on regaining innings and stamina that were pretty much lost in 2020, even as he threw for a few days in Detroit, and then at Toledo, after MLB teams reconvened in July.

Matt Manning: “It’s about having a good strong curveball and being able to throw a nice change-up off that.”

Everything until then was on track. Manning started 24 games in 2019 at Double A Erie. In 133 2/3 innings, he had a 2.56 ERA, an 0.98 WHIP. He was nicked for only 93 hits, struck out 148, and unintentionally walked 38.

He was going to see Detroit, at some point, in 2020 – until COVID-19 crash-landed.

Manning repeated twice Tuesday that his August shutdown was a matter of the Tigers being hyper-cautious.

“In a normal season it would have been a quicker recovery,” he said of the “mild inflammation,” which was diagnosed and affirmed by four doctors. “In a normal season, I probably would have missed a couple of starts and gotten back out there.”

He said again Tuesday that while “it kind of stunk going down” (being shut down), the year had not been a waste. The Tigers worked on his lower-body mechanics after poking through a mound of video and analytics evaluations. They have a hunch the slight changes in set-up and delivery will add muscle to his pitches.

Those pitches, incidentally, will remain at three. There has been loose talk of adding a slider as a fourth option, Manning earlier said, but he explained Tuesday that any such experimentation is now back-burnered.

He wants one thing, and one thing only: A full season to sharpen pitches, add crust to his command, and move progressively toward fulltime work in Detroit.

As if he needed more incentive, he’s gotten it. Watching this month’s playoffs, and particularly the young, 100-mph throwers trotted out continually by the Dodgers and Rays, spurs a 22-year-old man with prime-time stuff to see himself in that very role, awash in limelight only deep October runs deliver.

“It’s good to see all these guys all doing very well,” he said of the World Series cast. “They’re all unique, but the way I throw fits into that (fastball motif, even if Manning has never hit 100).

“It’s about having a good strong curveball and being able to throw a nice change-up off that.”

And it’s even more about work and innings a heavy prospect hopes are in store for him, and for the Tigers, in 2021.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.