Matt Manning is at his best on the mound when he's having fun. These days, he's having a blast.
The Tigers' No. 2 prospect tied a career high with nine strikeouts over five innings as Class A West Michigan posted a 2-0 victory over Fort Wayne in a game called in the sixth by rain on Saturday night at Fifth Third Ballpark. The right-hander yielded two hits and walked two in his second straight scoreless outing.
Fresh off posting six zeros against Bowling Green on Aug. 26, Manning (2-0) continued his recent dominance in the Midwest League. Over his last two starts, the 2016 first-round pick has given up five hits with four walks and 15 strikeouts over 11 innings.
Video: West Michigan's Manning records ninth K
Manning worked two perfect innings and allowed one baserunner in two of the other three frames. The TinCaps put runners on first and second in the fifth after Marcus Greene Jr. singled and Reinaldo Ilarraza drew a two-out walk, but Manning responded by getting Jack Suwinski to ground out.
Gameday box score
"It was good to play off my last game," the Elk Grove, California, native said. "I have everything kind of working for me right now with confidence. I went out there and just tried to put the ball in the strike zone."
Manning was replaced by Brandyn Sittinger after throwing 47 of 73 pitches for strikes. The nine whiffs were the most he's recorded in five starts on the circuit and matched the career best he set on June 20 with Class A Short Season Connecticut.
"I think I got ahead of hitters and that's when I showed my curveball and kept them off-balance," Manning said. "I just relaxed and took it all in. I threw and had fun, treated it like a game and enjoyed it."
MLB.com's No. 68 overall prospect has bounced back after a rough introduction to full-season Class A action. In his first three outings after coming up from the New York-Penn League on Aug. 4, Manning was tagged for 11 runs on nine hits over 6 2/3 frames.
The 6-foot-6, 190-pounder struggled primarily because he tried too hard without trusting his stuff. Recently, Manning said he has become comfortable enough to relax on the mound.
"I think it just took time," he said. "I think when I got to the point where I felt comfortable and I knew I needed to start trusting my stuff and going out there and having fun and just competing, that's when I have my best stuff."
Manning added that despite struggling, his confidence level never changed. It remains high as the Eastern Division-winning Whitecaps head into the playoffs.
"I've always had confidence in my pitching and myself," Manning said. "My first couple [of] outings I was really close to getting out of innings and going into next ones, but some stuff happened. I kept my confidence and I'm feeling good about myself.
"I'm with a really good team and they all have my back and we're playing really well together. I'm just going to hopefully finish off the year strong."
• Get tickets to a Whitecaps game
Cole Bauml's RBI groundout and Danny Pinero's run-scoring single in the first accounted for West Michigan's offense, while Sittinger fanned one in a scoreless inninng and earned his first save of the year.
Adrian Morejon (1-2), the Padres' No. 5 prospect, yielded two runs -- one earned -- and six hits with a walk and six strikeouts over five frames for Fort Wayne.