Spencer Torkelson hits first spring home run, but Detroit Tigers fall 8-7 to Phillies

Detroit Free Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 8-7, on Sunday at BayCare Ballpark, falling to 5-9 (with two ties) in Grapefruit League play.

What happened

First baseman Spencer Torkelson secured his spot on the Opening Day roster Saturday, and one day later, he demolished an 11th-pitch fastball from Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola for a solo home run in the second inning.

During the at-bat, Torkelson fouled off six pitches. He faced curveballs, fastballs and changeups from Nola, who completed his four spring training starts with a 5.65 ERA, one walk and 20 strikeouts in 14⅓ innings.

“With two strikes, it’s a lot more comfortable seeing everything he’s got and knowing how he’s been attacking me,” Torkelson said. “I had a good approach, knew what he was doing and just did a little better.”

The ball, hit with a 103.4 mph exit velocity, traveled 403 feet to left-center field. It marked Torkelson’s first career spring homer. (He hit 30 homers in the minor leagues last season.)

Torkelson finished 1-for-3 and is hitting .286 (8-for-28) with four doubles, one homer, four RBIs, two walks and four strikeouts in 13 games.

“I’m fired up for Tork,” Tigers right-hander Casey Mize said. “He’s earned it. I’m glad he got that news, and I heard it was a pretty awesome moment with him yesterday. And Riley (Greene, foot injury), I’m sick for him. I know he’s worked so hard to perform so well, and I know he was going to, or I don’t know, but I assumed he was going to be on our team. I hate it for our team, but more importantly, I hate it individually for Riley.”

Starting out

Mize pitched into the fifth inning in his final spring training start. The 24-year-old conceded three runs on seven hits across 4⅓ innings. He produced one strikeout without any walks.

He threw 53 of 77 pitches for strikes.

“Execution as a whole has got to be much better, but you have those days,” Mize said. “Tough timing with it being the last (start) right before the season. Had a pretty good camp, just not a great day today. But it’s all right.”

Of those pitches, Mize needed 28 to complete a two-run first inning. He gave up a leadoff home run to Kyle Schwarber, a one-out homer to Bryce Harper and three consecutive singles to Nick Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius.

Loading the bases with one out, Mize escaped further damage by retiring Rhys Hoskins and Bryson Stott. The home run from Schwarber traveled 426 feet with a 108.5 mph exit velocity.

He pitched a perfect second inning and worked around a leadoff double from Harper in the third. In the fourth, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak fell behind 0-2 in the count but homered to right field on the fifth pitch.

All three homers were hit off Mize’s four-seam fastball. The Phillies had a 96 mph average exit velocity.

“I’m not going to lose sleep over it, but I know I got to get better,” Mize said. “Can’t afford to have too many days like these during the season, so I got to get better from that, for sure. But yeah, definitely not going to be too upset.”

Mize, for his lone strikeout, sent down Schwarber swinging on three pitches, in order: 84.2 mph slider, 92.9 mph fastball and, finally, a filthy 84.7 mph splitter for the second out in the fourth.

In three spring starts, Mize had a 2.89 ERA with two walks and 10 strikeouts in 9⅓ innings.

“He’s ready to take the next step as a pitcher,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re going to rely on him pretty heavily for a lot of innings and good performance. The good part about the short spring is Casey’s as prepared on day one as anybody that I’ve ever been around.”

For his 77 pitches, Mize used 36 four-seamers (47%), 15 sliders (19%), 12 splitters (16%), eight sinkers (10%) and six curveballs (8%). He recorded seven swings and misses: two four-seamers, one slider, two splitters, one sinker and one curve. Mize also had 13 called strikes: seven four-seamers, five sliders and one splitter.

His fastball averaged 93 mph.

At the plate

Outfielder Akil Baddoo tied the game at 3-3 in the top of the sixth inning with a two-run home run on a slider from left-handed reliever Jonathan Hennigan. Baddoo has three homers this spring, including two against lefties.

Baddoo, entering his second MLB season, hit .214 with zero homers in 108 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie last year. The 22-year-old struck out in his first two at-bats, both facing Nola.

“I know he wants to be an everyday player,” Hinch said. “Part of that is hitting lefties.”

The Tigers put together a rally with two outs in the eighth inning against righty Dillon Maples, starting with Victor Reyes’ home run — with a 112.2 mph exit velocity — to right field, trimming his team’s deficit to 8-4.

“I love the way he’s come into camp and really focused on elevating the ball to the pull side,” Reyes said. “He has a ton of strength. He still has some untapped potential. He’s going to get a little bit more playing time now with the way it’s all shaken out.”

Then, the Low-A, High-A and Double-A prospects delivered: Daniel Cabrera (walk, stolen base), Danuerys De La Cruz (RBI single) and Gage Workman (two-run home run).

The Tigers trailed 8-7 after Workman’s shot to center field.

On the mound

Following Mize, the Tigers turned to right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer for the final two outs in the fifth inning. He fell behind Castellanos, his former teammate, in the count but battled back from down 3-0 to strike him out swinging with an 88.3 mph slider.

His fastball velocity averaged 91.3 mph.

Righty reliever Jose Cisnero allowed three runs on one hit and two walks with one strikeout, logging two outs in the sixth inning. His fastball averaged 93.6 mph. Righty Rony Garcia replaced him and was charged with one run, though got the third out.

“We’d like to see things a little bit more closer to in-season form,” Hinch said of Fulmer and Cisnero. “But trust your players and trust the timing. Veteran players have a way of knowing themselves more than anybody. We got to evaluate where they’re at and make our decision accordingly in the first few games and the first few series.”

Chase Anderson, another righty, allowed one run (unearned) in the seventh and eighth innings.

Three stars

1. Torkelson, 2. Baddoo 3. Reyes.

Next up

Monday vs. Toronto Blue Jays in Lakeland (Bally Sports Detroit).

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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