MINNEAPOLIS – Monday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins was a disappointing one for the Detroit Tigers, as they lost their eighth straight road game and fourth straight game overall.
Just a few days ago, the Tigers were celebrating a perfect 7-0 home stand that brought them within four games of a .500 record. Now, that number has doubled, and with the schedule set to get much tougher at the end of the week, it’s a long shot that the Tigers will ever get there in 2021.
Between a blown 6-0 lead Saturday and Monday’s extra-innings loss, this four-game losing streak has included some heartbreakers. But there was one silver lining buried in the latest Tigers loss: Matt Manning’s curveball.
Five games ago, Manning had the best start of his MLB career. He posted a quality start with 11 swinging strikes and only four hard-hit balls against the Texas Rangers.
Manning was looking to build on that success Monday, but overall, he wasn’t nearly as dominant. He finished with six swinging strikes in 74 pitches and allowed seven hard-hit balls (95+ mph) and only one batted ball under 85 mph.
The box score looks very uninspiring, but for anyone watching the game, Manning’s curveball stood out.
He induced four whiffs on eight swings against his curveball, and four additional curveballs were called for strikes. Overall, eight of the 18 curveballs he threw either ended in whiffs or called strikes. That’s a great sign.
Manning said after the game that he adjusted his grip on the curveball in between starts, and the underlying numbers certainly point to a significant change. The average spin rate on his curveball Monday was up 117 rpm from his season average -- a healthy increase. He also threw the pitch on average 2 mph slower.
Between the increased spin rate and the velocity difference, Manning’s curveball was basically a different pitch, and the results were promising.
Three of Manning’s four strikeouts came on well-located curveballs in the dirt -- Brent Rooker in the first inning, Trevor Larnach in the fourth inning and Jake Cave in the fifth inning.
Last week, Manning’s 11 swinging strikes came on the back of an explosive and well-located four-seam fastball. Now, he’s showing he can get whiffs with the curveball, as well.
After five shaky outings to start his MLB career, Manning is showing signs of the raw stuff that made him so dominant in the minor leagues before 2020. He’s only 23 years old, so if he can put together last week’s plus fastball, Monday’s wicked curveball and a decent slider/change-up mix, the Tigers will have another MLB-caliber starting pitcher.
Manning still got in trouble Monday by hanging a curveball to Rooker, who sent it 460 (at 111 mph) to left field for a go-head home run. He also split the plate with a handful of juicy fastballs and sliders that Twins hitters feasted on for two singles and two doubles -- all hit harder than 103 mph.
Manning isn’t a finished product, but he’s starting to show promise for the future. Even though this Tigers losing streak is deflating after such a strong home stand, these types of signs are what really matter in another rebuilding season.