'I'm just adapting': Tigers' Manning optioned to Toledo after impressive outing against Twins

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — Baseball can be a tough business.

Tigers rookie Matt Manning had the most impressive outing of his young big-league career Friday night in the Tigers' 4-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field. He didn't give up a hit for 4.1 innings and left the game with two on and no outs in the sixth, having allowed just two hits. 

Detroit Tigers pitcher Matt Manning, left, heads for the dugout after he was pulled in the sixth inning.

Afterwards, though, he was told by manager AJ Hinch that he was going to be optioned back to Triple-A Toledo through the Major League All-Star break. 

"There was going to be a gap before he started again," Hinch said. "This has nothing to do with him or this start. We're going to control some workload here."

Another factor was the Tigers needed a fresh arm for Saturday. Kyle Funkhouser will get a spot start in what will be a bullpen game. Derek Holland was activated off the injured list.

Still, a tough pill for Manning to swallow in the aftermath of a strong outing.

"I don't know the plan about about that," Manning said. "Just taking it day-by-day."

Asked if he was OK with the move, he said, "I'm not sure. I'm still thinking about it right now. But it's all good."

If there was a tone set for Manning’s fifth big-league start Friday night, it came before the game from Hinch.

His message to the rookie after three straight rough outings was essentially this:

"He doesn't have to be superman tonight,” he paraphrased to reporters. “He needs to get outs and compete. Put one foot in front of the other and be a little better than he was last time. Eventually you will take off in a sprint and become the guy you're going to become."

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Manning did exactly that. He put one foot in front of the other, he didn’t get rattled by some loud contact early, he mixed in all his pitches, settled in and produced the best start of his young career.

"It was a step forward," Hinch said. "Everything is new to him, everything is a first for him and the bar is pretty high here. We've raised expectations on everything with our young guys. His heart beat is settling in. He head is in a good place and he knows what he has to do to stay in the games and ultimately win games."

The two runs on his line were scored after he gave up a single and walk to start the sixth and was pulled from the game. He was at 69 pitches when Hinch came and got him.

Lefty Ian Krol’s return to a big-league mound for the first time since 2018 couldn’t have gone much worse. He balked and the runners advanced to second and third.

Then left-handed hitting Trevor Larnach banged a single through the drawn-in infield to score one run and Nelson Cruz hit a sacrifice fly to score the second.

"(The balk) was a huge play," Hinch said. "We love spin (breaking balls) on Larnach. He gets ahead with a breaking ball and he's going to get a steady diet of breaking balls. When he balked the runners over, it changes the defense and they roll a ball up the middle."

With two on and two out — Krol had walked left-handed hitting Alex Kirilloff — left-handed hitting Max Kepler tripled on a sinking liner to left field that Robbie Grossman dived for but couldn’t stop. It rolled to the wall and both runs scored easily.

"I was one of those plays where I thought I could catch it," Grossman said. "I felt like I was right there and I came up short. I put that on myself. I feel like I got a piece of it, like it touched my glove.

"I just keep replaying that play back in my mind. I wish I would've come up with it."

Grossman got those two runs back in the top of the eighth, smashing a two-run homer into the seats in left. It was his career-high 12th. But that was the full extent of the Tigers' offense. 

BOX SCORE: Twins 4, Tigers 2

The silver lining, though, was the impressive growth shown by Manning, who hadn’t gotten out of the fourth inning in his last two starts.

It looked early like he might be living on borrowed time again. In the first inning, he shook off a sign from catcher Jake Rogers on a 1-2 pitch. Rogers wanted something off-speed, Manning wanted fastball. His 95-mph fastball left Josh Donaldson’s bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph and traveled to the wall in center where Akil Baddoo ran it down.

He threw a first pitch slider to Cruz leading off the second. That one flew off the bat at 115 mph and landed in Nomar Mazara’s glove at the wall in right field. Miguel Sano led off the third hitting a 2-0 fastball to the wall in right (103 mph off the bat).

"Loud out or regular out is still an out," Manning said.

But by the end of the third, though, he was in control. He was far less reliant on his fastball, throwing a slider, curve and change-up for strikes. Thirteen times he started hitters out with a secondary pitch, making his fastball more effective.

Case in point: In the fourth inning against Larnach, Manning got ahead 0-2 with a curveball and a change-up. He missed with another change-up and then threw two straight 95-mph four-seamers — the second one froze Larnach for a called third strike.

"I think I'm the same pitcher, I'm just learning more at this level," Manning said. "I'm not really doing anything different. Just building off what I'm doing, keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate and using all my pitches.

"I'm not pitching differently, I'm just adapting to the level."

The first hit off Manning came with one out in the fourth — Kepler lined an opposite-field single to left, sending Jorge Polanco (walked) to third.

But Manning didn’t break. He struck out Sano with a nasty, hard-biting slider and got Ben Rortvedt to ground out.

Fellow rookie Tarik Skubal also pitched 4.1 hitless innings on Thursday. According to Elias Sports Skubal and Manning are the first rookie starters to have back-to-back games with 4.1 no-hit innings since Daniel Ponce de Leon (7 no-hit innings) and Austin Gomber (7 1/3 no-hit innings) did it for the Cardinals on July 23-24, 2018.

Twitter: @cmccosky