Trusting Tork: Tigers’ Hinch not pushing panic button with struggling rookie

Detroit News

Detroit — The answer is no, for now.

As the Tigers prepared to play the fourth of a five-game series against the Athletics Wednesday, there were no imminent plans to option struggling rookie Spencer Torkelson to Triple-A Toledo.

“It’s tough,” manager AJ Hinch said when asked at one point does the idea of a reset come into play. “It’s all individual based. Right now we feel like Tork is still being competitive. He’s still playing great defense. His attitude has been good. His reactions have been good. Last night (Tuesday) he showed some frustration, but I’m actually fine with that.

“If it’s not coming out at some point it could boil over a little bit.”

Torkelson came into the game Wednesday on a 2-for-35 skid with 15 strikeouts in his last 11 games. On the year he’s hitting .155 with three home runs and 33 strikeouts in 98 plate appearances.

“We’re trying to balance what we’re trying to do,” Hinch said. “If you look at the calendar, we’re at a certain point (early May). If you look at the game total, we’re at a certain point (31 games). If you look at the at-bats total, we’re barely at 100. It’s still really early, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

This recent stretch has been especially rough for Torkelson, but there are some positive metrics. When he makes contact, it’s been generally hard contact. His average exit velocity on balls in play is 91.7 mph. His hard-hit rate is 48%.

“From a confidence standpoint, I think he’s doing fine,” Hinch said. “From a frustration standpoint, I think it’s growing. But any hitter who isn’t doing their part probably feels that. He still responds well. His interaction with Coolie and Hess (hitting coaches Scott Coolbaugh and Mike Hessman) and me has been great.

“He expects a lot of himself. I think the hardest thing for him is to realize he doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Hinch said Torkelson is trying to hit every pitch he sees in every at-bat. To that point, he’s hitting .182 with 17 strikeouts against fastballs, .147 with 14 strikeouts against breaking balls and he’s 0-for-6 against change-ups.

“He doesn’t have to cover every pitch,” Hinch said. “He’s got to move the ball forward a little more consistently, but his swing decisions are still pretty good (ball-strike). He’s not chasing a ton (20.9%).

“If anything, he’s trying to hit everything and that for a young player is a recipe for struggles — trying to hit everything and not hitting anything consistently.”

Moving Torkelson out of the lineup would affect a couple of different positions for the Tigers. Jonathan Schoop would likely move from second base to first base, which would weaken an area of the defense that’s been strengthened.

Willi Castro, who is being transitioned to more of an outfielder role, would have to move back to the infield and share second base. Harold Castro would toggle between first and second. Or, the Tigers could bring up infielder Kody Clemens, who has been hitting well at Triple-A.

The best option, still, is to be patient with Torkelson and give him some time to grind his way out of the slump.

“We could take a lot of stress off of him if everybody else started trending up,” Hinch said. “Which Jeimer (Candelario) has done and Schoop has started to do. Getting guys around him to hit, the focus won’t be on him as much and he can continue to learn at this level.

“I don’t think he’s shaken, which is key. We have to find the right fine line between pushing him, but not accepting the lack of performance. I do trust him still.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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