Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson confident, staying the course through rough patch

Detroit News

Houston — If you thought the slow start was tearing Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson apart mentally, you thought wrong.

“No, I feel good for where I’m at, honestly,” he said. “Nothing changes. Just keep on keeping on. Keep working hard and the results will follow.”

Torkelson was back in the lineup Saturday after sitting out two of the previous three games. Since he homered on April 23, he’d gone 3-for-33 with 13 strikeouts and no RBIs. Such a skid, especially with a player of Torkelson’s pedigree, invites closer inspection.

When he makes contact, it’s typically been hard contact, as evidenced by his 91 mph exit velocity on balls in play. That ranks in the top 11 percentile in baseball. And, unlike several other hitters in the Tigers’ lineup, he’s not chasing pitches out of the zone (19% chase rate).

And yet, he’s swinging and missing at a 27.5% rate and striking out at a 32% rate.

“I’m missing my pitch when I get it,” he said. “That’s all it is and that’s an easy fix.”

More: Another start, another advanced lesson for Tigers rookie Beau Brieske

Early on, pitchers were busting him inside. He adjusted to that and now they are showing him pitches in off the plate and trying to get him out with softer stuff away. He came into the game Saturday 4-for-31 on sliders and curveballs, and 0-for-6 on change-ups.

“I handled the inside pitch better than they thought I could and now they’re working away,” he said. “But that works right into my approach when I’m going good.”

As happens to most hitters when they struggle, Torkelson has found himself behind in the count regularly. He’s 3-for-41 when he has two strikes, 1-for-16 after the count is 0-2, and 1-for-21 after the count is 1-2.

“He’s trying to be a little too perfect,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Hopefully he will free up a little bit and get a good pitch to hit.”

As Hinch pointed out, Torkelson isn’t the only hitter pressing through this current 2-10 stretch. It’s been a collective struggle.

“We’ve got to get our A-swing off a little more often,” Hinch said. “We’re taking some defensive swings and putting the ball in play, which can be worse than swinging and missing. Hopefully we can start to get our A-swings off a little better.

“The guys that are scuffling and chasing for success, hopefully they can free up a little bit and not carry the first 30, 40, 50 at-bats into today’s at-bats.”

More: Tigers’ Matt Manning to start rehab assignment Sunday

Javier Báez, who came into the game Saturday on a 2-for-20 skid, was asked if he thought guys were starting to press at the plate.

“No, there’s none of that here,” he said. “We’re trying. It’s early in the year and we’re just trying to build. Everybody just needs to play. They’re going to have ups and downs. We’ll see how they come out of it. It’s a process and we’ve got to go down to come up.

“There’s no pressure here. Everybody is young. They just have to go out there and play.”

Torkelson said he’s taken a tip from assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman and is breaking his season into segments of 20 at-bats.

“Like, how did I do these 20 at-bats, 5-for-20? All right, let’s get on to the next 20,” Torkelson said. “Pretend it’s a totally different day. Whether you are 0-for-20 or 10-for-20, just move on to the next 20 at-bats. It’s a long year. You can’t look at the big picture right away.

“It helps you stay in the moment, stay in the right now and focus on today. Don’t worry about anything else except the four at-bats I get today and the 20 I will get this week. Simplify.”

So, after the day off Friday, where’s he at in this 20 at-bat segment?

“I’m starting a new one today,” Torkelson said.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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