Indians rough up Tigers rookie Matt Manning, cruise in series opener

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cleveland — This must be like a nightmare for Matt Manning. Finally getting to pitch in the big leagues and not having the one weapon that got him this far. Think Nuke Laloosh’s dream sequence in Bull Durham.

Manning seemed weaponless against the Indians Friday night. The velocity on his fastball, which two years ago was ringing upper-90s consistently, was sitting at 93. His slider was flat. His change-up and curveball were non-factors. No chance.

The Indians tagged him for six runs and 10 hits in four innings and cruised to a 6-1 win over the Tigers at Progressive Field. The average exit velocity on the 18 balls put in play by Indians hitters was a robust 94 mph.

"It's just fuel for my next start," Manning said. "It stinks getting kicked in the gut but it makes you hungry for the next one. I am very eager to get out there for my next start."

Had it not been for a spectacular defensive play in the third inning, the carnage might have been worse.

► BOX SCORE: Indians 6, Tigers 1

Four runs had already crossed the plate in the inning and lefty Derek Holland was warming in the bullpen. The Indians had ripped three doubles and two singles and there was only one out when Harold Ramirez hit another bullet into center field.

Bobby Bradley was hustling around third and headed for home with the fifth run. He didn’t get there.

Tigers center fielder Derek Hill charged and threw a missile (94.4 mph according to Statcast) to the plate and catcher Eric Haase made a brilliant one-motion play to catch the ball and make a swipe tag on Bradley.   

► RELATED REPORT: AJ Hinch tries to ride wave of Miguel Cabrera's chase while keeping Tigers' focus on point

"We needed to stop that inning any way we could," manager AJ Hinch said. "They were piling up a lot of hits on Matty and he was on the brink of coming out of the game. I didn't want to go to the pen that early. I wanted him to be able to bridge it a little if he could get out of it.

"A defensive play like that was really important. Just a really well-executed play."

Hinch sent Manning back out for the fourth, giving him what he’s called a developmental inning. He’s had success doing that with rookie Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, letting them try to finish a rough outing on a high note.

Not this time. Manning gave up three more hits and two more runs.

"His execution wasn't good," Hinch said. "He got beat in a couple of different ways. He didn't put a lot of hitters away when he had a chance. He lost a lot of at-bats in decisive counts -- three or four hits came in 1-1 counts, 1-0 counts, a couple of two-strike hits. 

"He lacked execution. He didn't have a good night."

The issue of Manning’s velocity has been well-documented, to the point of irritating both Hinch and Manning.

When asked about making the transition from being a more power-based pitcher to trying to compete with lower velocity and a larger arsenal, Manning said, "I'm not sure."

Asked how tough it might be for Manning to learn how to pitch without the high-velocity fastball said, frankly, "It's not that tough when you execute."

Manning missed all of 2020, first with COVID-19 and then with a forearm strain. He lost 15 pounds which he still hasn’t regained. The physical issues plus missing a full year of development set him back significantly.

He hasn’t shown the same arm speed or velocity he had back in 2019 when he was dominating Double-A hitters in Erie.

"I just don't spend a lot of time on (the velocity issue)," Hinch said. "I wasn't in A-ball with him or Double-A. If this is what we have, then he's going to have to execute regardless. As we've seen around here, guys throwing 96 and 97 get hit around, too, if they don't execute.

"He had a bad night, for sure. But he would've had a bad night with this execution at 96 mph."

Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter, left, goes out to talk with pitcher Matt Manning in the third inning.  At left is catcher Eric Haase and right, Jonathan Schoop.

Manning was summoned to the big leagues somewhat before his time because of injuries to the top three starters in the Tigers’ initial rotation – Spencer Turnbull, Matthew Boyd and Jose Urena. Even though he was getting hit around by Triple-A hitters at Toledo, the Tigers felt it would be best to let him develop under pitching coach Chris Fetter, hoping he would rise to the challenge of pitching against big-league hitters.

"He's going to get the ball (next week) in Baltimore," Hinch said. "We love Matt and we think he's a big-league pitcher and he's going to have an impact here. He's going to have to learn some things at this level.

"I just don't want him to right the rollercoaster. He has a good start and it's a coming out party -- he's still going to have a bad night here and there like any other young pitcher."

The Tigers offense came into the game leading the Majors with 112 runs since the All-Star break, but they were subdued by Indians right-hander Cal Quantrill. The Tigers got two hits in the first inning – the threat doused by a double-play grounder by Miguel Cabrera – and just two more over the next six innings.

"He was really good and he's been good for a few starts now," Hinch said. "He pushed off the plate inside enough to allow him to use whatever he wanted. But the reality is, they got up 4-0, 6-0 and he got to dictate the game. 

"He could do whatever he wanted to do."

Quantrill, who set down 15 straight at one time, posted a career-best 10 strikeouts. He induced 19 swings-and misses.

Cabrera is still on 498 home runs, but he collected hit No. 2,946, a single in the seventh.

Twitter: @cmccosky