Minneapolis — You know what one of the coolest things about this season has been for Robbie Grossman? He gets to come back and do it again next year.
“The saddest part of the year is when you’ve got to go home,” he said.
Since 2016, Grossman has gone into every offseason unsure about where he would be the next year. That changed when he signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Tigers last offseason.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy when I came here,” Grossman said. “But I am very proud of the guys in this locker room and I’m proud of this coaching staff, just how far we’ve come in the last five months. And I’m so excited for next year and to get back to spring training.
“I couldn’t be more excited to come back and have that familiarity with everyone, to know where I’m going to be living in Detroit and everything that comes with that. That’s a huge point in my career, too.”
It may have been the best $10 million the Tigers have spent in quite a while.
Grossman, at age 31, is having the best year of his career. He’s posted career-bests in games (152), runs (86), hits (128), triples (three), home runs (23), RBIs (65), stolen bases (18) and walks (96). And you could make a case that those numbers are his second-most significant contribution this season.
Grossman, through deeds more than words, has been the personification of the culture change that’s developed through the course of the season.
“Robbie posts, which is the No. 1 quality you can have as a player,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Be available and grind through the most games he’s ever played in his career. And he’s not doing that at 100%, no one is ever 100% this time of year.
“But I think the way he prepares and the way he perseveres through some nicks and bumps and bruises, through the peaks and valleys of performance — he’s an incredibly strong person that is a great example for our guys.”
The Tigers have been at or near the bottom in strikeouts and chase rates the previous two seasons. Grossman came in and showed what plate discipline looks like and what it means to grind through at-bats, every at-bat. His 96 walks are second most in the America League and fourth most in baseball.
With four more he will become just the second Tiger to walk 100 times since 2000. Miguel Cabrera was the other. His on-base percentage is 119 points higher than his batting average.
Hinch preached versatility, and Grossman has played solidly and uncomplainingly in both corner outfield positions. Hinch preached aggressive baserunning and Grossman set a career-high in stolen bases.
And even though he’d never been asked to play a leadership role in his career, he embraced the mentorship of the Tigers’ fleet of young outfielders, starting with Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill and, in spring training, Riley Greene.
“I’ve just been myself,” Grossman said. “I’ve been pretty consistent with that. I’ve had some days when maybe I slipped on who I was. But, for the most part, I feel like I’ve been consistent with who I am. I’ve tried to show some of these young guys how to go about the emotional rollercoaster that is a major-league baseball season.
“Just do my work consistently, keep my attitude consistent and trust the process.”
That, of course, was put to the acid test in April when the Tigers fell into a 9-24 hole.
“I’m not the kind of person to blow up on somebody,” he said. “I got on some guys during the season that I felt weren’t giving what I expected out of them. But I did it privately. And I am very proud of a couple of those guys. But it’s more about me showing up and staying with my routine and showing what it means to grind through a season.”
Hinch said Grossman was instrumental in helping Baddoo navigate through his ups and downs this season, at the plate and in the outfield. He said he’s looking forward to the impact he can have on Greene next season.
“I’ve heard stories of Miggy being that guy a couple of years ago and he continues to be that guy,” Hinch said. “You have to fight through a lot of things and Robbie does that quite often. He’s not perfect. None of us are. But I applaud him for what he brings every day.
“That can’t necessarily be coached or bestowed on people. You have to earn that respect. … He’s certainly been the most consistent about what he brings to the ballpark every day than anybody on our team.”
By the way, if you think Grossman is in any way satisfied with his work this season, you haven’t met him. Nobody will ever have higher expectations for Robbie Grossman than Robbie Grossman.
“At the end of the day, I’m hitting .230 (.237),” he said. “I’ve still struck out 150-some times (151). I pride myself at being better than that. I need to be better than that. There is always room for improvement. I am always trying to get more out of myself.”
What he does feel good about, though, is that after the 9-24 start, the Tigers went 66-58 heading into the game Wednesday.
“From where we started, we could’ve just let it snowball and go down the wrong way,” he said. “I’ve been on those teams. For us to turn it around really speaks volumes about the guys we have in the clubhouse. They just weren’t going to lay down.
“It could have gone so many other ways for us. You know, it’s not always what happens, it’s how you respond to it. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”
Tigers at Twins
► First pitch: 7:40 p.m. Thursday, Target Field, Minneapolis
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► LHP Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.13), Tigers: He will close out his rookie season with the Tigers rookie strikeout record and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.54) for a rookie in club history. His ratio is the highest in the American League since Collin McHugh posted 3.83 in 2014. His ability to command secondary pitches improved exponentially. Opponents hit .196 with a 30% whiff rate against his slider, .176, 49.6% against his change-up.
► RHP Joe Ryan (2-1, 2.45), Twins: He’s not going to make Twins fans forget about Nelson Cruz, but he may ease the pain somewhat of him being traded away. This is the elite prospect the Twins got back from Tampa Bay and he’s been electric in his four big-league starts, holding hitters to a .133/.167/.253 slash-line with 25 strikeouts and three walks in 22 innings.