DETROIT – The Tigers returned from California in the early hours of Monday morning, but Matt Manning still got up in time for breakfast. He had an appointment to see an old friend.
On Wednesday, Manning will see Dylan Carlson again, this time in the batter’s box.
“We grew up together. We played Little League together, ”said Manning, who grew up in Sacramento, California.
While Manning was late in life at Sheldon High School, Carlson was a star at nearby Elk Grove High School. Both went to the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft – Manning to the Tigers with the ninth overall selection, Carlson to the Cardinals with the 33rd, a compensating choice. Carlson made his MLB debut last summer and Manning could have done the same had it not been for a strain in his right forearm that blocked him in late August.
Instead, Manning made his debut last Thursday at Angel Stadium as an opposing pitcher in a Shohei Ohtani start. When he climbs the mountain for his first home start as Tiger on Wednesday, he will be the headliner.
Manning pitched in Detroit during Summer Camp last year, of course, facing the Tigers hitters. He was in an empty stadium and in a game that didn’t matter. This is obviously different.
“The nerves of my prime [start] they’re gone, “Manning said.” But now I know it’s about racing, getting results and trying to get a ‘W.’
Manning stood up to the Angels, conceding just two runs out of five innings. Only one of the four hits he allowed went for extra bases, a Kean Wong double that fed a second inning by two points. Nearly 70 percent of Manning’s throws – and all three strikeouts – were fastballs, a rate that is sure to drop.
“One, I don’t think he’s going to be as nervous as he was the first time,” Detroit manager AJ Hinch said. “And two, execution will always be the key to him. This is a team where there are areas to go with your fastball, but there are also some necessary secondary fields to use. “
Manning’s big backcourt is his curveball, which scored the same rating as his fastball (both 60 on the 20 to 80 scale) on MLB Pipeline’s observation report on him. Last Thursday he threw only six corners and did not draw swings and a strike call with the pitch. But when it’s on, it’s a shield.
“I think right now I’m groping my way,” Manning said. “I know I have to throw more curveballs for strikes, more changes and whatnot, but I kind of go out there and follow what I read about swings. If my fastball is going to play 65 percent of the time, that’s what I’ll throw. And when I need to throw something else, I’ll do it. “
That ability to read swings is great and demonstrates the growth Manning has made in his five years since he avoided playing college basketball and baseball at Loyola Marymount and doing his full-time job instead of baseball.
When he reads Carlson’s reaction the first time he enters the box, he might allow himself to smile. They faced off in live batting practice sessions in the offseason, but they don’t compare.
“Yes, I’ll try not to [smile], “Manning said,” but I’ve never done it with this setting. So I’ll try to put those emotions aside and divorce whoever is in the box and hunt them down. “