Matt Manning threw one of his best games of the year, and the Tigers lineup outbattled the Brewers on Wednesday to sweep the two-game set with a 4-1 victory.
This one didn’t come easily. The Brewers’ pitching staff is as good as any in the game, and they had another ace on tap in the form of Brandon Woodruff. The big right-hander overpowered the Tigers the first time through the order, collecting 11 straight outs to start the game. Finally, with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Robbie Grossman drew a walk to break the spell, and in an 0-2 count, Miguel Cabrera pulled his hands in on a nasty fourseamer and drilled it up the left-center field gap for a double. Grossman raced all the way around to score from first.
That run only tied the game, because Manning had dealt with his own problems back in the second inning. He got the first two outs quickly, but then gave up a single and a walk as he fought his command. Lorenzo Cain fell behind 0-2, but Manning just missed the corner with a slider. When he came back with a fastball on the outer edge, Cain took it the opposite way for an RBI double. With runners on second and third, Manning nibbled too much, walking Manny Pina to load the bases, but finally got Kolten Wong to ground out to end the threat.
That long inning seemed to kick Manning into high gear. He got two quick outs in the third, and then broke out the curveball, stealing strike one on Omar Narvaez. He came back to Uncle Charlie with two strikes and Narvaez whiffed over the top of it. Unfortunately Dustin Garneau also whiffed trying to block it and the pitch clanged away from him, allowing Narvaez to reach first. Manning responded to some adversity in this one, and this moment was no different, as he got Luis Urias to fly out.
From there, Manning’s velocity ramped up, and he mixed all of his pitches well, drawing the most whiffs of any of his starts this year. By the fifth inning he was carving up a pretty good Brewers lineup with authority. He struck out PIna and Eduardo Escobar, though he did miss with an 0-2 fastball to Wong that got smoked down the first base line and was nicely snared by Jonathan Schoop. With his pitch count beyond 80, it seemed Manning’s night might be over, but A.J. Hinch turned him loose for the sixth and he responded, walking Luis Urias but having no other trouble. He punched out Jace Peterson on a foul tip that bounced off the glove of Garneau, but stayed in the air long enough for the Tigers’ backstop to making a diving catch to complete the strikeout. You...don’t see that one much.
Manning ended up at 98 pitches with a very nice line: 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 6 SO.
Influencing Hinch’s decision to get Manning some leash was the fact that the Tigers had plated two more runs against Woodruff in the fifth. Harold Castro dumped a blooper into left field to lead off the inning, and Willi Castro reached on a bunt that Wong threw away, sending Harold to third. Dustin Garneau flew out, scoring the run from third, and then Derek Hill hammered a ball up the left-center field gap to the wall, scoring Castro as Hill roared around the bases for a triple.
Alex Lange took over in the seventh and looked good, racking up a pair of strikeouts in a brisk inning of work. Dustin Garneau pulled a fly ball into the bullpen for his fourth homer in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-1.
Michael Fulmer took the eighth and looked great, mixing in some knee bucking curveballs and just overpowering hitters. We saw Daniel Norris in the bottom of the eighth and he didn’t have a very good outing, but the Tigers couldn’t cash in a pair of singles. Then as Gregory Soto went two innings on Tuesday, it was Fulmer’s turn to do the same. Luis Urias spanked a single with one out, but Fulmer dusted Jace Peterson on a truly diabolical 94 mph slider down, and then got Daniel Vogelbach to fly out to right, though it took a nice running catch from Victor Reyes to deal with it.
The Tigers are 4-1 over their last five games, having played the Tampa Bay Rays and the Milwaukee Brewers, two of the best teams out there. Matt Manning looked great once he got a little angry, and Alex Lange and Fulmer delivered the goods in dominating fashion in the late innings. Now it’s back to the Rays, but this time, the Tigers will have to deal with them on the road.