In the matter of How Not To Get Called To Detroit, it would appear Matt Manning is writing quite the how-to manual.
Consider the evidence gathered from six starts at Triple-A Toledo, compiled by a 23-year-old, right-handed, first-round draft pick (2016) who supposedly was en route to Comerica Park at some point in 2021:
Manning has worked 26⅓ innings for the Mud Hens. He has allowed 36 hits, with a whopping 11 of those hits flying out of the ballpark. He has a 9.23 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP.
On the plus side, he has struck out 28 and walked eight, which is a ratio — heavy on whiffs — the Tigers for now say they can live with.
It’s a mixed bag, with bad pitches too often mixed in, which is what his manager, Tom Prince, pretty much was explaining during a Saturday phone conversation.
“He’s going to be fine,” said Prince, a big-league catcher for 17 seasons who in the autumn of 2019 was picked to be Toledo’s new manager. “When he’s located the ball, he’s been very good.
“The velocity’s there. The breaking ball is there. And he’s actually throwing change-ups to right-handed batters on occasion. All the metrics are fine. When he locates the ball, he gets people out. When he doesn’t get it located, the hitters at this level have grown as much as any part of baseball, and they’re going to hit it. But he’s doing fine.”
Manning’s fastball has been following its old ways, which Prince says remains in the 93-97 vicinity. He has a standard-issue curveball, as well as a change-up that needs to be used more often.
It would, of course, help if Manning threw earlier strikes as well as better-targeted strikes. When he is ahead of hitters, his ERA is 2.16 and his WHIP is 0.96. Pitching from behind, he pays a price that pitchers typically pay when hitters can be picky: 15.63 ERA and 3.32 WHIP.
Location, location, location: Business people know the tenet well. So do baseball graybeards.
Consider his last start, Thursday at Memphis.
Manning was socked for a quick run on a single and double from the first two Memphis batters.Then, he was Manning — the Manning the Tigers see as an inevitable rotation piece.
He got out of the first, with a strikeout, then had another strikeout in the second alongside a single and double-play grounder.
In the third, he saw three batters — and punched out all three for a total of five whiffs through three frames.
Then, the fourth, when Manning’s evil twin showed up: flyout, three consecutive doubles, a single, pop-out, home run, single. Alex Lange arrived to allow two inherited Cardinals runners to score, then allowed a run of his own doing in what became an eight-run inning for Memphis.
This, of course, is why the minor leagues exist. But by the time a pitcher ascends to Triple A it is necessary to hit spots Manning hasn’t, with steadiness, been securing in the spring of 2021.
There are no plans, at the moment, to fiddle with a fourth pitch, given that Manning’s first tasks are to harness those first three options. But until he does show he can throw early strikes, to all quadrants of the strike zone, he will on occasion tee it up for hitters who aren’t afraid of a fastball, particularly when it arrives down the middle and thigh-high.
“He’s hit a little bump in the road,” said Prince, who was the Pirates bench coach before agreeing to skipper Erie. “I don’t mean you aren’t accountable to standards, because you are held to standards at this level, and it’s not supposed to be easy,” Prince said, adding that pitching coach Doug Bochtler “has been awesome” with Manning.
“But, again, everybody, he’s going to be fine. I actually like it when they have this (rough outings) going on before they get to the big leagues.”
What he means, of course, is that a traumatic night is part of the tough love Triple A and other farm rungs are obliged to dish out during that march to MLB’s realities.
But getting there is the key. And getting there means Manning has some work ahead.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.
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