Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch announced Saturday morning what most feared: Center fielder Riley Greene broke his right foot fouling off a 97-mph fastball from Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole Friday.
“It’s a non-displaced fracture in his foot and he’s going to be late to the season,” Hinch said. “The films initially came back (showing) the fracture and we had it evaluated by Dr. Robert Anderson, who is an expert foot doctor. He confirmed the diagnosis.”
A non-displaced fracture is where the bone breaks in one spot and stays aligned. Surgery is not required and the general timeframe for recovery is six to eight weeks. For Greene, an otherwise healthy, 21-year-old athlete, the timeline could be shorter.
“A timeline at this point would be unnecessary,” Hinch said. “He will get it reviewed again in a few weeks and get a further diagnosis.”
Greene, the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Tigers’ system, was on track to win the Opening Day center field job.
“I feel for him,” Hinch said. “He was having a great spring. He was trending in the right direction, super energetic, great kid, great attitude. He took the news as positively as he could. I’m truly disappointed for him and for our organization.”
Greene’s injury changes the landscape of the Tigers’ outfield, especially after Hinch also announced that Derek Hill (hamstring) would not be able to start the season on time.
It leaves three true outfielders in camp — Victor Reyes, who will likely be the Opening Day center fielder, Robbie Grossman and Akil Baddoo.
“Right now, internally, we will look at Eric Haase and Willi Castro being more geared toward the outfield,” Hinch said. Haase is the back-up catcher to Tucker Barnhart and Castro has primarily been a utility infielder.
“Victor, Robbie and Akil will take down a lot of innings in the outfield,” he said.
Hinch said outfielder Daz Cameron, who was optioned to Triple-A earlier in the week, was not coming back to camp.
“The group we have now is the group we are evaluating,” Hinch said.
General manager Al Avila could and likely will search for another outfield option outside the organization— but that’s out of Hinch’s purview.
“Time will tell where we feel our best team is,” Hinch said. “It’s always easy to look outside and wonder if there is an option that fits. But at the same time, with all this being fresh and me trying to get a team ready — that’s for upstairs.”
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Reyes has played 108 games in center field the last four years, posting a minus-3 defensive runs saved. He played 20 games out there last year (minus-4).
“I’m ready for it,” Reyes said.
Baddoo, who projects to be the starting left fielder, played 66 games in center last year with a minus-4 defensive runs saved.
“I have a ton of confidence when Victor plays,” Hinch said. “But center field is the biggest challenge for him. And frankly, it’s a challenge for Akil, too, and the numbers will back that up. But Victor is sure-handed and he will make the plays he’s supposed to make. He controls the fundamentals of the position.
“Both Victor and Akil will get an opportunity to play out there. They’re good players and that’s what’s important.”
Had Hill’s right hamstring not tightened up on Wednesday in Clearwater, the center field job would likely have been his, a fact that’s not lost on him.
“I know, trust me on that, I know,” Hill said Saturday. “The last two springs I’ve had a little something to deal with. This ain’t nothing to be upset about. Just have to deal with it. Just get better and get back to the squad.”
Hill and lefty reliever Andrew Chafin, who will also not opening the season on time because of a groin injury, will stay back in Lakeland and work through extended spring. Both will eventually need rehab assignments, probably with Toledo, before being activated.
“I think both of those guys will have games to play (with the Tigers) in April,” Hinch said. “Just as an example of a loose timeline.”
Greene was having a productive spring, hitting .429 this spring with a 1.548 OPS. On the next pitch after he broke his foot, he drilled an off-speed pitch from Cole 404 feet off the wall in center and sped around to third base.
“That’s what gave us pretty good optimism even leaving the game,” Hinch said. “He was going to come out with a sore foot regardless, but it wasn’t as if he reported a ton of pain. He had a little bit of swelling, but when he came out he was still grimacing. We just told him to go in for precautionary x-rays.”
He stayed on base for four more hitters before scoring on an infield single by Javier Baez.
“Something to be said for adrenalin,” Hinch said. “Just like (Gregory) Soto last year, broke his finger and threw 100 mph. Sometimes adrenalin is a good thing.”
So is patience. Greene and the Tigers are going to need a lot of it.