Tigers call up top pitching prospect Matt Manning: 'I'm fighting to stay'
Kansas City, Mo. — Ready or not, right-handed pitching prospect Matt Manning has been summoned to the big leagues.
Manning, 23 and rated the No. 3 prospect in the Tigers’ system by MLBPipeline, was the last healthy starting pitcher left on the 40-man roster not already in the big leagues. And when Matthew Boyd went on the injured list Tuesday with left arm soreness, the Tigers were down to three healthy starting pitchers.
So, despite his struggles through most of his seven starts at Triple-A Toledo, Manning got the call Monday night.
"(Toledo manager Tom) Prince called me," Manning said. "He told me to pack my stuff, I was going to the big leagues. He wished me luck and said he hoped to not see me again (laughing)."
Manning was added to the taxi squad for this series, but the plan is for him to make his debut Thursday in Anaheim against the Angels. And if things stay as they are, he could be pitching opposite Shohei Ohtani.
"Mentally, he's in a good place and that was important for me to hear and see," manager AJ Hinch said. "He talked about his early Triple-A struggles and also about his last start which was very good. He's very realistic about it.
"But he's throwing the ball the best he's thrown it this season after his last start."
The Tigers made a flurry of transactions before the game.
► Boyd (elbow soreness) and reliever Alex Lange (shoulder) were placed on the injured list. Right-hander Rony Garcia was moved to the 60-day injured list and will likely be lost for the season after knee surgery.
► Veteran catcher Wilson Ramos, who had lost his starting role before he went on the injured list with back pain, was designated for assignment.
► Reliever Beau Burrows, the Tigers first-round pick in 2015, also was designated for assignment.
► The contracts of veteran pitchers Wily Peralta and Miguel Del Pozo were purchased from Toledo.
► Third baseman Jeimer Candelario was activated off the bereavement list.
Having used nine relievers in the win Monday night, essentially the fourth bullpen game in five days, an infusion of fresh arms was mandatory.
"We need innings today," Hinch said. "Both have big-league experience. Del Pozo has been one of the best relievers on the team in Toledo. Wily is under consideration to start Saturday in Boyd's spot."
Hinch said Boyd was still undergoing tests and the exact nature of his injury isn't known.
"It's more toward the elbow, but I hate talking about it until I fully know what it is," he said. "I don't want to play doctor. I know what I want it to be — just a nice 10-day stint to freshen him up."
Ramos, whom the Tigers signed for $2 million this offseason, struggled defensively and ultimately lost his playing time behind the plate to Jake Rogers and Eric Haase. He hit .200 with six home runs and 29 RBIs.
It's been a rough couple of years for Manning, whom the Tigers drafted out of a Sacramento-area high school with the ninth overall pick in 2016. The 6-6, 200-pound son of former NBA player Rich Manning was dominant in the lower levels of the minor leagues, averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings in Low-A and High-A ball, then 10 strikeouts per nine at Double-A Erie in 2019.
But the 2020 season was a washout for him. He’d shown some positive signs in spring training, before the COVID-19 shutdown, but when he came back, he was quickly shelved with a forearm injury and didn’t throw another competitive pitch until this spring.
He used the downtime to focus on his strength and conditioning, and he cleaned up his mechanics. He had some good moments this spring, but was optioned out of big-league camp on March 15.
Still, his mid-90s fastball and two different shapes of curveballs weren’t exactly mystifying Triple-A hitters this season. They’d been hitting him at a .303 clip and slugging .598 with 11 home runs in 32.1 innings.
"I learned that you can't always out-stuff people, or out-velo them," Manning said before the game Tuesday. "I learned how to pitch by the end of it. I had a lot of good innings in between some not so good ones. But I learned a lot. It was a very good learning experience.
"The adversity I went through is going to make me a better pitcher coming out the other end."
His last Triple-A start, on June 9, was his best to date, allowing two runs over six innings, with eight strikeouts, against Louisville. On the day before that start, on a whim, he called up fellow rookie starter Tarik Skubal.
"I hadn't seen him in like two months," Manning said. "For some reason I called him and went to his apartment and we talked for like two hours. It calmed me down. I am just so comfortable around those guys (meaning Skubal and Casey Mize). They are who I want to be around."
Mize, Skubal and Manning, long touted as the foundation of the Tigers' rebuilding efforts, have probably exceeded their expected arrival dates by a few months.
"We have a vision in the future of those three being very stable parts of our rotation," Hinch said. "But they have to go out and earn it. They're at different points in their development track. I hope what Tarik and Casey have learned so far will quickly be communicated to Matt."
Manning might have gotten knocked around some by Triple-A hitters, but they didn't dampen his confidence or his resolve.
"I just have to work harder and not leave anything on the table," he said. "Just go for it. I'm fighting to stay. I'm fighting for my life every time I go out there. The team has been struggling for some arms recently, so I want to do it for them and eat up as many innings as I can and get the team as many wins as possible."
It is unclear how Manning's role will evolve when Boyd and Spencer Turnbull return from the injured list. Hinch has talked about trying to find ways to keep Mize and Skubal on a starter's routine while managing their innings.
It's possible Manning could end up in a piggy-back role with either Mize or Skubal.
Tigers at Royals
► First pitch: 2:10 p.m. Wednesday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► LHP Tarik Skubal (3-7, 4.35), Tigers: He comes into his 12th start leading all major-league rookies with 74 strikeouts (in 60 innings). Only Miami’s Trevor Rogers (89) has more. He’s given up a lot of loud contact, though — 14 home runs and a .500 slugging percentage against. He ranks in the bottom 4 percentile in baseball with a 14.4% barrel rate (balls put in play with at least a 95-mph exit velocity).
► RHP Brady Singer (3-5, 4.85), Royals: It’s been a little rocky for him since he beat the Tigers on May 22. The Royals are 1-3 in his last four starts, with opponents slashing .301/.368/.494 against him. He’s allowed 15 earned runs in his last 20 innings. A .346 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and .337 batting average on balls in play suggests he’s been a bit unlucky, too.