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Tigers vs. Cardinals Preview: Matt Manning looks to build on a solid first start

The starting pitching matchup says there should be plenty of balls in play today. Defense is going to be the key.

2021 Detroit Tigers Photo Day Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Well we don’t see them often, but when the St. Louis Cardinals come to town, it’s hard not to think back on the 2006 World Series. The memories are not great. So it feels particularly good to beat them, and this scrappy 2021 iteration of the Detroit Tigers were the beneficiaries of some sloppy play from the Cardinals this time. So let’s do it again today.

The task will rest of the shoulders of the latest of the Tigers trio of excellent pitching prospects to reach the majors. Matt Manning takes the mound for the second start of his major league career, and his first one in Comerica Park. Opposing him is a pretty beatable starting pitcher in Cardinals’ righthander John Gant.

As we saw in Anaheim last Friday, Manning still really only has command of his fastball at this point. He mixed in curveballs, changeups, and even a few sliders last Friday in his major league debut, but still struggles to throw them consistently and hit his spots. However, he does have a high caliber fastball, and he knows how to use it.

The question today will be whether Manning can use the secondaries a little more effectively. That will no doubt remain the question until he figures it out. After seeing his performance on Friday night, the Cardinals have to know he’s still a work in progress and can’t really depend on anything but the heater at this point.

The rest of his repertoire will develop with time, and the lumps he takes now will only add impetus to efforts to refine them. But for now he’s going to be in survival mode. If Manning can get plenty of weak contact early as the Cardinals try to dial him in, and if his defense can play it clean behind him, the 23-year-old rookie will have a chance to settle in and find the feel for something more.

Detroit Tigers (31-42) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (36-37)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation site: Viva El Birdos

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Matt Manning (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP John Gant (4-5, 3.50 ERA)

Game 74 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Manning 5.0 3.16 14.3 9.5 0.00 0.1
Gant 61.2 5.01 16.5 15.8 0.73 0.2

All eyes will likely be on Manning’s strengths and weaknesses today, but Gant has even more question marks at 28 years old and in his sixth season in the majors. So far in 2021, he’s avoided major damage despite rather horrific strikeout-to-walk numbers, but his stuff is truly mediocre, and his control has been erratic at best in his return to a starting role after two years spent in the Cardinals bullpen.

Gant’s only saving grace is that he doesn’t give up too much hard contact in the air. Beyond that it’s a pedestrian fastball at 91 mph, backed largely with his changeup, and less so by his slider and curveball. He has good velocity separation between fastball and his offspeed stuff, but the whiffs, which spiked briefly in 2020, just aren’t there. Instead, Gant is giving up a lot of hard contact, particularly line drives.

Essentially, Gant is going to use a sinker with good horizontal movement, and try to spot it on the edges. Against righthanded hitters, he’ll start it away and sneak it back to grab the edge, while mixing in his curve and slider moving from the edge out of the zone. Against lefties, he will throw the sinker in under hitters’ hands, but for the most part he’s going to live away with the sinker and changeup. In short, he’s a nibbler.

It’s not an impressive mix of pitches at all, but he has some feel for moving the ball on and off the edges, and if he’s sharp the Cardinals should get five or six decent innings out of him.

Key Matchup: Defense probably wins out today

Manning is still likely to be a little shaky, and Gant does not miss many bats. So you can probably expect a brisk game with defense and controlling walks, being the two key factors. The Tigers will have Akil Baddoo leading off today, and if he and some of the other Tigers speed players can keep the pressure on the Gant and the Cardinals, they’ll have a good chance to win. This isn’t going to be decided by dominant starting pitching performances. Whichever team plays the cleaner game on defense and on the basepaths is probably going to win. However, if Mr. Manning decides to dominate anyway? All the better.

With Manning on the mound, Miguel Cabrera out with a calf issue, and Grossman getting a day off, this one is going to strongly feature the youth movement. Baddoo will lead off, Isaac Paredes is handling shortstop, and Jake Rogers is behind the dish. It would be great to see this group take two from St. Louis.