Matt Manning takes big step forward in Tigers' spring win over the Yankees

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It wasn’t a make-or-break start for Tigers’ right-hander Matt Manning Friday. There’s still too much time before he would be making his first regular-season start to put that much weight on it.

But make no mistake, it was time for Manning to step it up after a couple of wobbly starts and some worrisome pitch metrics in his previous two starts.

“We’d like to see progress,” manager AJ Hinch said before the Tigers beat the Yankees 8-7 in a home run-filled spring game at Joker Marchant Stadium. “You only have so many reps. These are the only reps he has left so I think it’s important he utilizes them and continues to show progress.”

Detroit Tigers pitcher Matt Manning throws during spring training baseball.

Manning responded with his best start of the spring, working 3.2 scoreless innings, allowing four hits with four strikeouts. His four-seam and two-seam fastballs, which had been averaging 91-92 mph, sat at 93 mph with improved life.

More:'Ton of time': Tigers' Hinch taking bullpen, roster decisions to the wire

According to Statcast, the spin rate on his two-seam sinker was up 278 rpms more than his norm last season and his four-seamer spin rate was increased by 106 rpms.

“Just had a good week of work,” Manning said. “Just keeping my head down and getting all the small things right and flushing things (from the previous start) and getting on to the next one.”

If he felt under the gun going into the start, you’d never know it.

“I was confident from the last one,” he said. “It’s about building on the work I do every day. That’s what keeps me in rhythm, taking it day by day. Don’t look too far ahead and just try to get a little better every day.”

Manning showed his trademark competitiveness, too. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning and they were working on rattling him. An infield single, a bunt-and-run single and walk in just eight pitches.

Catcher Jake Rogers took a very prudent mound visit at that point.

“Just to let him calm down and gather himself,” Rogers said. “I just told him, ‘You’re doing great,’ and let him catch a deep breath. I asked him what pitch he felt comfortable throwing, he said slider and we went from there.”

Manning struck out catcher Rodolfo Duran going slider, slider, slider and then burying him with a 94-mph heater. He then got left-handed hitting Jake Bauers to pop out to short and lead-off hitter Anthony Volpe to fly to left.

“Those are the kinds of innings you want to be in in spring training,” Manning said. “You want to get those things out of the way. Jake gave me a little breather there and all the guys were behind me out there. It was kind of a rallying point to get me out of that inning.”

Manning threw 14 sliders, seven changeups, seven sinkers and six curveballs. He didn’t get a ton of swings and misses, seven on 28 swings, but he got 11 called strikes and mostly-weak contact (85 mph average exit velocity on 11 balls in play.

“It was a very good day for him,” Hinch said. “I’m really proud of him for the effort and the way he attacked from the first hitter all the way to the last one he faced. He had the one inning with a lot of stress and that turned out to be great for him because he had to push through a few things.”

Manning, who is on track to be the fifth starter in the Tigers' rotation, has one more spring start and then will likely pitch either a live bullpen or in a simulated game between the end of camp and Opening Day.

Yabba Dabba Baddoo

Hard to call it. Which was more impressive, Akil Baddoo jumping a first-pitch curveball from Yankees' right-hander Domingo German and hitting it into the Margaritaville Porch beyond the right-field wall or nearly getting decapitated by a fastball up and in and then working a seven-pitch walk off lefty Matt Krook?

“Both,” Baddoo said with a smile. “I was able to maneuver my way out of that one (the walk) and then on that curve ball, just being ready for pitch one, seeing a good pitch over the heart of the plate and putting a good swing on it.”

Baddoo came in hitting just .200 this spring, but his at-bats have been progressively longer, more competitive and resulting in more contact. He flew out to the wall in right field, homered to right, walked and had an infield single in his four at-bats Friday.

“It’s been his overall command of his at-bats,” Hinch said. “We talk about him controlling the strike zone and swinging at the right pitch. He had some deep at-bats and yet he was ready to hit an off-speed homer. That was as complete a day on the offensive side as he’s had.”

The results, Baddoo said, were validation of his work. But there were no mechanical adjustments, no swing tweaks. Just persistent work.

"Baseball is a game of failure and you learn each and every day no matter how you did that day," he said. "You go into the cage and keep working. It's just a matter of sticking with my abilities and sticking to my strengths. It's not so much about the results, it's my feeling (in the box). As long as I'm feeling good at the plate, that's all I really care about.

"When I'm feeling good, that means I'm seeing the ball and putting pretty good swings on balls and continuing to stay in the strike zone. That's key for me. I liked the walk just as much as when I hit the ball over the fence."

Game bits

…Rogers left the game in the fourth inning after he took a 93-mph fastball off his left elbow. He stayed in the game and ran, but was pulled as a precaution. “No way was he coming right out of the game,” Hinch said, smiling. “He wanted to run the bases. But we weren’t going to let him hit again.” Rogers wasn’t scheduled to catch this weekend anyway and isn’t expected to miss any time.

…A 13-mph wind was blowing to center field Friday, but it didn’t play much of a role in the two home runs switch-hitting catcher Andrew Knapp hit. Batting left-handed against German, he sent one 395 feet with an exit velocity of 103 mph. Batting right-handed against lefty Krook, he pulverized one 418 feet to center with an exit velo of 106 mph. “I’ve only done that one other time,” Knapp said of homering from each side of the plate in the same game. “That was in Double-A, 2015. So, it’s been a while. Felt good.”

…Riley Greene hit his third homer of camp, tucking one inside the foul pole in left. Colt Keith, who was sent back to minors camp earlier in the week, shot one 427 feet over the visitor’s bullpen in right-center. The exit velocity on that one was 111 mph.

…Lefty Joey Wentz gave up five runs in three innings, but most of the damage came on one misbegotten changeup he left up to Wilmer Difo. That one landed on the berm in left for a three-run homer. “He was better than his line will look like,” Hinch said. “His secondary stuff was good.”

…The box score will show that Alex Faedo got the save. He worked the last two innings and he stranded the tying run at second base in the ninth thanks to a clutch diving catch going toward the line by third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy.