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Matt Manning works out of early jam, buckles down as Tigers top Brewers

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Tigers rookie right-hander Matt Manning left the mound after six innings pounding his glove with a smile on his face and a look of satisfaction.

He outdueled Milwaukee Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, whose 2.48 ERA ranked fourth in MLB, and the Tigers came out on top, 4-1, Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.

Tigers pitcher Matt Manning works in the second inning against the Brewers on Wednesday.

Detroit swept the two-game series from a team tied for the third-most wins in the majors, and allowed the Brewers one run over 20 innings.

Manning (4-6) gave up one run on two hits over six innings, and was nearly perfect after almost letting the second inning get away from him.

BOXSCORE: Tigers 4, Brewers 1

How a young pitcher deals with adversity early in games often determines his fate, and that was the case in this one.

“He kept us right where we needed to be when things were starting to spiral a little bit,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said.

Manning, 25, retired the first five batters, but Jace Peterson singled and stole second with two out in the second.

Manning walked two bottom-of-the order hitters with Lorenzo Cain doubling between those free passes to score the game’s first run. By walking Daniel Vogelbach (.211) and Manny Pina (.195), Manning put himself into a bases-loaded jam.

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Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter made a mound visit before Manning walked Pina, but Manning then sent Pina to first by missing on a 3-1 pitch.

Dangerous leadoff hitter Kolten Wong came to bat with a chance to make it a big inning. But Manning challenged him, getting ahead in the count, 1-2, and got Wong to hit a harmless grounder to second baseman Willi Castro to end the threat.

“Those are the points in games where it can either go bad or it can go good,” Manning said. “It’s how you respond in those situations, and that’s an experience I need at this level and this environment, to just get used to it.

“It’s not the last time it’s going to happen, and to be able to fight out of those situations allows you to go five, six or seven innings.”

Getting that out set the tone.

“It felt key then,” Hinch said. "But we didn’t know how much activity there was going to be throughout the game. (Wong) was going to bunt with two outs and saw that we were back. So, getting ahead of him was really key.

“(Manning) was able to be in and around the strike zone. It’s a small zone with Wong. He knows where the strike zone is. So, you’ve got to beat him inside that strike zone. So, challenging him inside the strike zone was really key to be able to do whatever he wanted later on.”

Manning focused.

“It’s a big difference giving up only a run instead of them opening up the scoring,” Hinch said. “It’s very key — especially with Woodruff on the mound. If it’s 3-0 after that at-bat or 4-0 or up to 5-0 if Wong hits the ball out of the ballpark, that’s a lot different."

The only Brewer Manning allowed to reach base from that point until the sixth inning came in the third when cleanup hitter Omar Narvaez struck out swinging on a breaking ball in the dirt and reached first on a wild pitch.

After Manning walked Luis Urias on four pitches with two out in the sixth, Fetter made another trip to the mound. A home run by Peterson at that point would’ve tied the score, but Manning got him to strike out swinging.

Catcher Dustin Garneau completed that strikeout on a tipped ball by diving to his left to snare it.

Manning said Fetter came out both times to give him a “breather” with “some strategy,” but it was Garneau who had the most to say in the sixth.

“Garneau led that one for me,” Manning said. “He said, ‘Stay focused.’ And was just giving me a breather: ‘Don’t veer off the path at all. Attack these guys.’”

Garneau said, “When he establishes his zone, establishes his fastball, he can be tough to hit. I think he’s starting to realize that — how good he actually can be.”

Manning smiled and said, “I only shook him off one time and it was the first hit up the middle. After that, I didn’t shake him at all. He’s very experienced. I love throwing to him. I think we have a good relationship building.”

Manning outpitched Woodruff (9-9).

Woodruff — with his 97-mph fastball, sinker, changeup and slider — mowed through the first 11 Tigers he faced.

But then Robbie Grossman worked a walk off a full-count pitch.

Miguel Cabrera, wearing No. 21 with other MLB players and teammate Willi Castro on Roberto Clemente Day, slapped a double to left-center with Grossman running on the 0-2 pitch. That hit was originally scored a single.

Grossman scored from first, and the game was tied.

“Aggressive base-running,” Hinch said. “Just kept going and didn’t concede that he was going to be held (by third base coach Ramon Santiago).”

Derek Hill capped a two-run rally in the fifth with a screaming RBI-triple to center after Garneau scored a run with a sacrifice fly. Harold Castro and Willi Castro, both beginning the inning with singles, scored the runs.

Garneau later added an insurance run with a two-out solo shot in the seventh. It had a 45.8-degree launch angle that was the second highest in the Statcast researching era by a Tiger. The only two higher than that were hit by J.D. Martinez in 2015.

“I hit it OK,” Garneau said. “But I definitely hit it high toward the foul line. At the last second, it hooked a little right and stayed fair. So, I was pretty excited. I got my wife (Jacqlyn) a homer on her birthday.”

When asked about Garneau's performance, Hinch said, “He caught a winner. And he got a (homer) and a sac fly. That’s a good day for any catcher. But I think Garneau is probably going to be more satisfied with what he did behind the plate, and being able to get Manning through that second inning. ... Pretty complete day for him.”

Michael Fulmer blanked the Brewers over the final two innings and the Tigers notched the short-series sweep.

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.