Matt Manning records first big-league win as Tigers sweep Cardinals
Detroit — Hall of Famer Jack Morris told the story of how veteran catcher Milt May set him straight on using all his pitches.
“I had no clue,” Morris said before the game Wednesday. “It was my first trip around the league and there were days when I had no confidence in my secondary pitches. So every time he’d throw down three fingers or anything other than fastball, I’d shake him off and he’d put it right back down.
“He told me, ‘You’ve got to throw those pitches in those counts. Trust me. Trust your pitches.’”
It was a story Morris told in reference to rookie Matt Manning, who made his second career start and his first at Comerica Park Wednesday, going 5⅔ innings and earning his first major league win as the Tigers beat the Cardinals, 6-2, to sweep the short, two-game set.
"It was everything I expected," said Manning, who got a standing ovation from the matinee crowd of 13,263. "It was everything I wanted it to be. It's a really good ballpark. I looked around when I got out there, it's just really good to be here.
"And all the support from the fans, it was good."
In his big-league debut last week in Anaheim, Manning threw 68% fastballs, often shaking off catcher Jake Rogers when he called for a change-up or slider.
“Sometimes a catcher has more confidence in pitches than the pitcher who is throwing them,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I love that Matt trusts his fastball. It’s got him to this level. This level now has to show him that he can’t pitch the way he always pitched.
“It has to prove to him it’s not the right way.”
Manning didn’t wait. He brought his full arsenal into his outing Wednesday, mixing 17 curveballs and 12 change-ups with 51 four-seam fastballs. And he didn’t lack for conviction in any of them.
Case in point: Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado led off the second inning and hoisted a 1-1 curveball over the wall in left field for his 14th home run on the year. So when Arenado led off the fourth inning, you expected Manning to go back to the heater. Nope. Unfazed by the home run, Manning threw him three straight breaking balls, getting him to ground out to shortstop.
"I just stuck to the game plan," Manning said. "I landed some good curveballs and showed them I could throw it for strikes. … The first curveball to Arenado was right in his bat path. Next time up I just said, six inches over and I'll be all right."
Manning allowed five hits, two were off his fastball, including a triple by rookie Lars Nootbaar that set up the second run off him.
The fastball was curious. It had a velocity range of 89 to 95.5 mph but sat at 92 mph — 2 mph off his pace in Anaheim. It had a below-average spin rate, as well (under 2,000 rpm).
"There was some life on it, but the velo was a little down," Manning said. "But I was able to work around it, keep it out of the middle of the plate. I pitched today without my best stuff."
He got just three swings-and-misses with the fastball (four total and just one strikeout) and the average exit velocity on the 13 put in play was 92 mph (hard-hit).
"I just want to get outs, I don't care if he's throwing 89 or 99," Hinch said. "I don't dwell on that too much. I think he's just trying to find his way. I think we can collectively exhale and just let him get used to the big leagues.
"I'm not going to overreact or underreact. Just let him enjoy his first major league win."
And, as has been the case since about the middle of May, Jonathan Schoop put the Tigers' offense on his shoulders. He doubled home two runs in the third inning and blasted his 15th home run, a solo shot, in the fifth.
"The Cardinals are a really good team, a winning team," Schoop said. "It means a lot for us to get two wins from them with another good team, the Astros, coming into town. We're just trying to win series."
Schoop, though, continues to be a marvel in June. The homer was his 10th this month. He leads the major leagues in homers, RBIs (23) and extra-base hits (17) for the month.
"It's something special because it shows all the hard work is paying off," he said. "I just want to keep it up. If you are helping your team win games, your numbers are going to be there. I've had a lot of good stretches in my career, but this is one of the best."
And since May 15, he’s hitting .355 (50-for-141) with 10 doubles, 13 homers and 32 RBIs.
"His presence in our lineup, when it rolls around, it's just different," Hinch said. "We know that he is capable of doing anything. All of us want Jonathan up to bat as much as possible."
Showing that he simply cannot do anything wrong right now, Schoop stole his first base in 114 games with the Tigers and just the ninth of his career — against future Hall-of-Fame catcher Yadier Molina — on a play where he lost track of the outs.
Schoop thought Eric Haase's strikeout in the third was the third out and he was casually running toward third when he realized it was the second out. He turned on the jets and eluded the tag of Arenado.
"It was a delayed steal," he said with a sheepish grin.
Rookie Daz Cameron, who also stole a base, hit his third home run since being called up from Triple-A Toledo earlier this month. He turned on a change-up and hit it 407 feet over the bullpen in left, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead at the time.
"He looks like a big-leaguer, doesn't he?" Hinch said. "He's learning his way and contributing every time I put him out there."
Same can be said for a growing group of rookies — Cameron, Manning, Rogers, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Akil Baddoo, who all have played key roles in this three-game win streak.
"I know the fans have been patient and waiting for this trio of pitchers, and now we're seeing some of the young position players come up and contribute," Hinch said. "Our guys are growing and having to face some of baseball's best while having a ton of responsibility on them — that's growth."