Tuesday night’s win over the Texas Rangers stretched the Tigers win streak in five in a row. It also highlighted the near complete brand of baseball the club is playing these days. Quality at-bat after quality at-bat, speed on the bases, solid starting pitching, improved defense, timely power and dominant relief work. All of it was on display.
With the Rangers struggling mightily and the Tigers on the rise, this is another matchup in which the home team is the favorite. And while rookie starting pitcher Matt Manning has had a rough go of it at times this season, recent developments suggested he’s making progress toward becoming a consistent contributor despite the host of issues that set him back over the past year.
Two outings ago, on July 4th, the Chicago White Sox were able to knock Manning out in the third inning with a barrage of singles. More important that his performance though, was the sudden emergence of a brand new slider. While these things don’t happen overnight, and Manning has been working on a variety of sliders over the past year and a half, the new version, developed in between starts in record time with pitching coach Chris Fetter, was by far the best breaking ball he’s ever shown.
What was especially surprising was rookie’s willingness to break out a whole new pitch in only his fourth major league start and use it liberally. The slider was in even better form against the Minnesota Twins on July 9, as Manning allowed two runs in five innings of work. This is still a work in progress, but at its best, the new slider was really nasty, with Statcast showing above average drop on the pitch. He’s also throwing it between 85-87 mph, finally giving him a breaking ball in that velocity band, while his 12-6 curve remains in the 78-80 mph range.
Manning was just not getting enough whiffs with the old curveball, nor with the slurve variant he tried this spring. Against Triple-A and especially major league hitters, he can no longer rely on a dominant fastball alone. There is still plenty of work to be done to refine his command, improve his changeup, and work to rebuild his body after losing a ton of weight to COVID-19. That will take time, but the slider gives him a much needed weapon for whiffs, which should take substantial pressure off his fastball as he looks to establish himself at the major league level.
After 12 days without a start, Manning may be a little rusty, and it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in the first place, but against a weak and frustrated Rangers lineup, he should be much better equipped to give the Tigers good innings on Wednesday night.
Detroit Tigers (45-51) vs. Texas Rangers (35-60)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Matt Manning (1-3, 6.95 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Lyles (5-6, 5.20 ERA)
Game 97 Pitching Matchup
As for veteran Jordan Lyles, this has been a rough season. He’s improved his strikeout and walk numbers somewhat after two seasons where he was really struggling, but they’re still pedestrian at best. Meanwhile, he’s also serving up plenty of home runs as well. Not a great recipe against a Tigers team that has beat up on lesser starters—and several good ones— over the past two months.
Lyles is a fourseam pitcher who tends to get a roughly even distribution of fly balls to ground balls. The heater is modest, at 92.8 mph, and Lyles has geared back his rate of usage over the years, throwing it just 46.1 percent of the time this season. In its place he’s using a mid-80’s slider much more, along with an 80 mph curveball, and the odd changeup mixed in against left handed hitters.
Manning has shown some leaps in growth over the past month, particularly the slider development, but it’s still a brand new pitch that he needs to learn to use in concert with the fastball and changeup to get more whiffs. But generally, the hard contact against him hasn’t been in the air. The Tigers should get to Lyles in this one, and if the defense doesn’t give away outs, Manning should be able to give the team a solid outing and keep this streak rolling. We’ll say that’s how it plays out.