Manning solid as Tigers escape ninth-inning drama to win sixth straight

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit —  Understandably, manager AJ Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter are trying to keep things uncluttered for rookie Matt Manning as he takes his first spin through big-league lineups. Keep things as simple as they can be and just let him compete.

“I don’t really care about the (pitch) mix,” Hinch said before the game. “Everybody gets caught up in pitch mix. I want outs. I don’t care if he throws all fastballs if he gets all outs. I think we’re getting a little too cute having to demand that a certain percentage of pitches be used. As long as he’s getting outs with the fastball, great, with the off-speed, great.

“At this level you have to be adaptable to pitch. I don’t want that on the forefront of his mind.”

Manning, making his sixth big-league start and his first since July 9, was not only adaptable, he was effective and efficient. He pitched six solid innings helping the Tigers beat the Texas Rangers 4-2 and win their season-high sixth consecutive game.

Tiger Zack Short celebrates his two-run homer with third-base coach Ramon Santiago in the second inning.

It was the eighth straight loss for the Rangers. 

"The first couple of innings I felt really slow, like I hadn't been out there in 11 days," Manning said, with a smile. "But after I got a couple of liners back at my face, I kind of got back up to speed."

He fielded two comebackers in the first three innings, making a do-or-die reactionary grab of a liner from Brock Holt.

"I felt pretty good, but right now I know there is a lot more I can give," he said. "There's more I can do to make it better. I hope the two-run games turn into no-run games soon."

Tiger Matt Manning pitches in the third inning.

Former Tiger John Hicks got Manning in the second inning, driving a 1-2 hanging curveball into the left-center gap for an RBI double. In the fourth, he got himself in trouble with a leadoff walk. After a passed ball, David Dahl ambushed a first-pitch change-up and ripped an RBI double into the corner in right field.

But that was it. Two runs, only one earned run, and four hits. Quality start. He needed just 77 pitches to get through his six innings.

"His calmness, being in control of his body and delivery is really good," Hinch said. "He looked like he was in total control of the game. He really settled in as a big-league pitcher."

Velocity is another thing Hinch doesn’t want Manning thinking about when he’s on the mound. His fastball hasn't approached the upper-90s heat that was his calling card as he climbed through the Tigers’ system. His four-seamer averaged 92.7 mph.

But he got the Rangers out with it.

"We've got to get our heads out of the radar gun and just look at the effectiveness when he puts the ball in the strike zone," Hinch said. "For the most part, he was pretty good, especially with the long layoff. I don't think people understand how difficult that is, for timing and rhythm and the conditioning."

Three of Manning's four strikeouts came off it, including an impressive punch-out of Joey Gallo in the sixth. He started him with two sliders, got him to foul off a 92-mph heater for strike two and then threw a 94-mph fastball by him.

"Me and Fetter have been putting in a lot of work just trying to get the life back on the fastball," Manning said. "We did a lot of work between starts and I'm starting to see it translate into game — that good life.

"My pitch mix was good, too. I was able to throw my slider and change-up pretty often to keep the hitters off balance. They look similar to the fastball out of my hand."

Akil Baddoo celebrates his solo home run in the fifth inning.

Manning fully expects, as he continues building strength and confidence at this level, to get the radar gun humming again. 

"I'm not going to beat myself up about it," he said. "I know it's going to come back. I throw the ball hard. It's a crazy year, coming back from last year (when he didn't pitch at all) to this year. 

"Sometimes I get too focused on location rather than getting that ride on the fastball. I'm trying to find a mix of the two." 

Manning gave way to the Tigers bullpen. On Tuesday, Kyle Funkhouser, Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto got the final nine outs in a row. On Wednesday, it was Joe Jimenez, Cisnero and Soto —  it wasn't nine straight outs. In fact, it got a little dicey in the top of the ninth.

With two outs, Soto gave up a bloop single and hit a batter. Then he put both runners in scoring position with a balk. But he regrouped and got Charlie Culberson to ground out to secure his 10th save.

Never a doubt.

The Tigers backed Manning with the long ball.

Robbie Grossman, as he did Tuesday night, put the Tigers on the board first with a solo home run in the first inning. After taking a close 1-2 change-up for a ball and fouling off a slider from Rangers starter Jordan Lyles, he hammered a 2-2 curveball, sending it 400 feet into the seats in right-center.

Tigers relief pitcher Gregory Soto reacts after making the final out in the ninth inning of a 4-2 win over the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park on July 21, 2021, in Detroit.

It was his 15th home run of the season and extended his on-base streak to 20 games.

In the second, with Harold Castro on first, shortstop Zack Short got a spinning slider and hooked it inside the left-field foul pole, his fourth home run putting the Tigers up 3-1.

Rookie Akil Baddoo hoisted his eighth home run of the season in the fifth. Lyles had struck him out with a two-seam fastball in the third. In the fifth, he took a close two-seamer to run the count to 3-1 and then slammed a four-seamer, sending it over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center.

Also, with an infield single in the eighth, Jonathan Schoop collected his 900th career hit.

"It's really been such a fun team," Short said. "Fun is really the only way to put it. You come to the field expecting to win every day ... I think I've said 'fun' like 100 times in the last five minutes."