Detroit Tigers’ Grayson Greiner is ‘most consistent’ in backup catcher battle

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Grayson Greiner seems to be pulling away from the pack.

The 28-year-old entered spring training in a battle for the backup catcher job, competing against Jake Rogers, Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase. After a few weeks, it became clear the Detroit Tigers were leaning toward putting Greiner or Rogers on the 26-man roster.

Since then, Greiner continues to make it nearly impossible for the Tigers not to keep him as starter Wilson Ramos’ backup.

“I’ve been very happy with his overall package,” manager AJ Hinch said Tuesday. “He’s been the most consistent of any of the guys that have been vying for that backup job. I want our catchers, specifically the backup guys, to understand we need that (offensive) production, but you can’t mess up your catching. You can’t lose me the game by not being prepared behind the plate. He’s very equipped to handle that job.”

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This spring, Greiner is 4-for-9 (.444) with one homer and two RBIs in nine games. He has taken five walks compared to three strikeouts.

Greiner missed a week of spring training games because of a fractured nose. He took a 94 mph fastball to the face March 7 against the Toronto Blue Jays and didn’t return until March 16. In his first plate appearance back, he faced New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and worked a 10-pitch walk.

“I’m pleased,” Greiner said Tuesday about his offensive success. “But not content. I’m always trying to get better, each and every day. One of the keys to being a good hitter is swinging at strikes and taking balls, and if you put yourself in good counts, you have a much better chance.”

That’s what happened Monday.

Blue Jays right-hander Ross Stripling tossed Greiner a 2-0 fastball inside the strike zone and Greiner clobbered it for a 416-foot home run to center field.

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“He’s going to have a hard time covering every pitch and every location given the size of his strike zone,” Hinch said. “The more he can simplify it and just hit the ball hard, the ball will go where it’s going. He’s taking aggressive swings at hittable pitches, and that’s been something he’s focused on and carrying it into the game.”

Greiner possesses 106 games of MLB experience across parts of three seasons. He played 30 games in 2018, 58 games in 2019 and 18 games in 2020. Last season, he hit .118 with three homers and eight RBIs, striking out 20 times with only three walks.

“He was very frustrated,” Hinch said. “Maybe reached a low point of what it takes to stick as a big leaguer. As a backup catcher, it’s tough. … The offensive side is always going to be a roller coaster as a backup.”

Greiner added: “I obviously had some struggles, and you just got to try and work and fight your way out of it. You realize that something’s not working, you got to work to change it and get better. That’s the constant battle.”

[ What manager AJ Hinch wants to see from the Tigers’ backup catchers ]

The offensive adjustments, albeit in a small sample, are helping Greiner solidify himself as the backup catcher. Meanwhile, Rogers is 3-for-22 (.136) with one walk and 10 strikeouts; he could be headed to the alternate training site in Toledo.

Based on performance, Greiner is in a strong spot as the final week of spring training unfolds.

“The main thing you can do is try not to get too caught up in all that and just come to work every day with a smile on your face, ready to work hard and get after it with your teammates,” Greiner said. “Whatever happens is going to happen.”

Finding the next starter

Hinch has officially announced three members of his rotation: Matthew Boyd (Opening Day starter), Julio Teheran and Tarik Skubal. The fourth starter is going to be Jose Urena, who the Tigers signed to a one-year, $3.25 million contract this winter.

[ Julio Teheran, Tarik Skubal make Tigers’ Opening Day roster as starters ]

Spencer Turnbull is beginning the season on the non-baseball injured list for COVID-19 reasons, but he will eventually join the mix. For now, the Tigers need another starter to open the season with a five-man rotation — before going to a six-man crew (with Turnbull) after a couple of weeks.

The last rotation spot comes down to two right-handers: 2016 American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer and former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize.

Mize is starting Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, with Fulmer entering out of the bullpen. While Fulmer could pitch as a reliever in the regular season, it’s unclear if the Tigers would do the same with Mize.

[ What Tigers’ Michael Fulmer thinks about coming out of bullpen ]

Essentially, Mize is still competing to make the team.

“It’s pretty safe to say I’ll have quite a few conversations over the next few days,” Hinch said Wednesday. “We have some logistical issues. We have a rough schedule at the end of camp with some tough travel days, some quick turnarounds after the night game. I’ll have quite a few conversations every single day between now and into the weekend.”

Hinch said he wants to have a “pretty clear understanding” about his entire roster by Saturday or Sunday.

Cameron ‘fully cleared’

After sustaining an elbow injury in Puerto Rico this offseason and slowly rehabbing, Tigers outfield prospect Daz Cameron has been “fully cleared” to play in the outfield. He made his spring training debut in right field Tuesday against the Yankees.

Beforehand, Cameron served solely as the designated hitter to get at-bats.

“He’s fully cleared to play,” Hinch said Tuesday. “We’ve got him back in the mix of being available and being cleared to do all baseball activities. … I’m glad he’s got a couple of at-bats but getting him defensive reps was the next transition to game ready.”

The 24-year-old is 1-for-7 (.143) with one walk and five strikeouts in camp. He isn’t going to make the big-league roster to start the season, and will either stay in Lakeland for minor-league spring training or go to the alternate training site in Toledo.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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