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Matt Manning's Strong Debut Gives Tigers Glimpse Of Promising Future



ANAHEIM, Calif.—As the Tigers make their way through another rebuilding year, the franchise’s eyes are firmly cast toward the future.

Righthander Casey Mize and lefthander Tarik Skubal have already come up and established themselves as cornerstones to build around in the starting rotation. Each have posted sub-3.50 ERAs since the start of May, erasing memories of the rocky starts to their big league careers.

The third piece of Detroit’s touted young pitching trio joined them in the majors on Thursday night. Though he took the loss, Matt Manning showed plenty to be optimistic about.

Manning pitched five innings and allowed two earned runs in his debut against the Angels on Thursday night. The Angels pounced on the Tigers bullpen after he departed to send Detroit to a 7-5 loss.

Manning, the No. 33 prospect on the BA Top 100, gave up four hits, walked two and struck out three while pitching opposite Shohei Ohtani. Most importantly, he showed the ability to keep his composure and bounce back from adverse situations. After the Tigers defense made a pair of mistakes that allowed two runs to score in the second inning, Manning held the Angels scoreless the rest of the way to get through five innings and keep his team within striking distance.

“Once I got hit a little bit I knew I didn't want it to end there and I wanted to keep going,” said Manning, who estimated he had 50 friends and family in attendance. “The way our staff's been going I wanted to get five innings for them. Give the guys some rest and just save the bullpen arms a little bit. So I didn't want to stop there. I wanted to keep going.”

Manning’s only hiccup was those two runs he allowed in the second inning, although the Tigers’ outfield defense bore the brunt of the responsibility.

Kean Wong hit a ground ball up the middle that center fielder Daz Cameron approached too casually, and Wong took advantage of Cameron’s lack of urgency by racing to second base to turn what should have been a routine single into a double. Two batters later, Luis Rengifo snuck a two-out single through the left side of the infield and left fielder Akil Baddoo airmailed the throw to the plate, allowing Wong to score and Rengifo to advance all the way to third. David Fletcher followed with a single through the right side on the next pitch to bring Rengifo home and give the Angels a 2-0 lead.

Manning didn’t let it faze him. He struck out Justin Upton to escape the inning for his first career strikeout. He retired the side in order in the third, worked around a two-out single in the fourth and struck out two of his final three batters to complete the fifth. On his final pitch of the game, he froze Taylor Ward on a 95-mph fastball.

“I thought Matt did a good job,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “It was an emotional night for him and probably the most stressful pitches he’s ever thrown in his life just making his major league debut. Big moment, lot of fans, got Ohtani on the other side, lot of friends and family in the ballpark and he held it together pretty well.

“I didn’t know how he was going to feel, how much he was going to command his stuff. As the night went along he got more and more comfortable and showed us a lot of things that we like and why we like him moving forward.”

Manning mostly relied on his fastball to get the job done. It was the pitch that largely got him drafted ninth overall in 2016, made him a five-time Top 100 Prospect and carried him up the minors. He threw 53 fastballs out of 77 pitches in his debut, averaging 94 mph and topping out at 97. Five of his six swings and misses came on his fastball, as did all three of his strikeouts.

He got Upton looking at 95 mph down the middle for his first career strikeout, got Upton again swinging through an elevated 95 mph fastball in the fifth and finished his night by powering his final fastball past Ward.

“I mean that's what got me to this point and that's why the way I used it wasn't gonna change,” Manning said. “I know the stuff that I need to get better at to reach to where I want to be, but for right now I've just kind of done what got me here.”

Manning departed with the Angels leading 2-1, a lead they quickly extended to 7-1 against the Tigers bullpen. A late rally came up short, dropping Detroit to 29-40 on the season.

It’s been a long few years for the Tigers. They’ve had four straight losing seasons and are on pace for a fifth. When they pick third overall in the draft next month, it will be their fourth consecutive top-five pick.

But the long-promised better days ahead are now in sight. On consecutive days this week, Mize pitched 6.2 innings in a quality start to beat the Royals, Skubal threw six innings to win a quality start of his own and Manning followed with his strong debut.

It was just one week out of many to come, but it represented the greatest signifier of progress in the Tigers rebuild yet.

After years of waiting, the foundation for the Tigers success has arrived.

“We're all very close friends and watching those guys pitch the last two days, I really wanted to go off what they did and just kind of continue to trend,” Manning said. “Hopefully it's a trend for a long time.”

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