Detroit Tigers: Matt Manning was completely different and exactly the same Friday night

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 9: Matt Manning #25 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning of the game at Target Field on July 9, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 9: Matt Manning #25 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning of the game at Target Field on July 9, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Tigers starter Matt Manning completely flipped his pitch mix Friday night against the Twins

Fans that were following along on Game Day or Twitter may not have noticed, but Detroit Tigers right-hander Matt Manning was completely different from his former self on Friday night in a start in which he went 5+ innings against the Minnesota Twins, giving up two runs (both of which were runners inherited by Ian Krol in the sixth inning).

Manning’s pitch mix is the big story; a sharp and sudden contrast to his June 17th debut against the Los Angeles Angles in Anaheim. During his debut, Manning threw 77 pitches: 53 were fastballs, 10 were sliders, 7 change ups, 6 curveballs, and 1 sinker. But those sliders weren’t really sliders.  The pitch ran 80-82; by comparison, his curveball was 76-79, so in all likelihood, he may have just thrown his curveball a bit harder. His sharp vertical movement profile would support this theory.

Statcast supports my thesis about Manning’s breaking ball as well, although they called all of his 78-82 offerings a slider in his 6/28 start against the Cleveland Indians.

The ambiguity was out the window on Friday night though, and Manning not only featured his slider, but threw it more in the 84-86 velocity band with more traditional slider bite, rather than his loopy curve movement. We had heard earlier in the season about a new breaking ball that Manning was crafting in place of his changeup, but that experiment had been tabled based on multiple looks I had at Toledo.

The changeup has gained a bit of consistency as well and was his primary secondary offering Friday; throwing it 16 times for a 23 percent overall usage. Again, in Toledo, Manning’s changeup was more of a show-me offering and he was only able to throw maybe one or two good ones per start.

The curveball, which was Manning’s go-to secondary pitch in the minors, was down to a six percent usage. While this may have just been part of the game plan to attack the Twins, it was evident that Rogers (and ultimately Fetter, probably) wanted to force Manning to use both the slider and the changeup to not only gain comfort, but get outs.

From a usage perspective, it was a night-and-day start. But what remained was the result. Manning seems to have a knack for getting hit hard but escaping and Friday night was no different. Take Manning’s slider, for example. The pitch averaged 100.8 mph exit velocity and went as high as 115. All of the contact made against Manning Friday night averaged just under 90 mph exit velocity, though, which overall is fairly regular.

It becomes tough to survive when baseballs are leaving harder than they’re coming in, but survival was exactly what happened Friday night for Manning. If this piece comes off as positive, it is not for his final 5+ IP, 2 ER stat line, though. The barrels were less encouraging, which has been a mainstay for him this season. The encouragement stems more from two seemingly newfound pitches, which are necessary to have if Manning intends to stick in a rotation long-term. Add to that he was finally more willing to work more north-south with his fastball (it tunnels so much better this way with his secondaries) and it becomes a little more understandable why he was able to weave through the Twins and escape with minimal damage.

By no means are these pitches finished products. His changeup still continued to float away when he lost feel and he throws it inside to both right-handers and lefties which is against conventional wisdom. The slider also lacks command as he left a few middle-middle but was bailed out by hard outs or takes.

Nevertheless, the very fact he is throwing these pitches and they are more in the desired velocity band for each speaks volumes to the job the Detroit Tigers, Chris Fetter, and the coaching staff are doing with their pitchers.

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