Detroit — What he should have done was work out a bonus system with Javier Báez and Jonathan Schoop. Like, $500 for every throw he digs out of the dirt and every time he stretches his groin to the snapping point to catch one of their throws.
He’d have earned a nice little nest egg by now.
“No, they’re pretty thankful,” said rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson, with a smile.
If you’ve been watching the Tigers this year, you know how valuable Torkelson’s glove work has been at first base.
“I know those aren’t glorious plays but they are effective at saving some runners and keeping guys off the bases,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And even feeling some of the things in the moment, like when we need a double play and how he stretches — there’s a lot of mature things that he’s doing.”
Torkelson’s play at first base is as much a part of the Tigers’ improved defense on the infield as the addition of Báez and having Schoop playing second base every day. Entering the game Saturday, Schoop led all second basemen in baseball with a 5.3 defensive rating (FanGraphs), seven outs above average and five runs above average.
Torkelson’s glove work helped get some of those outs.
“The running joke around the game is, ‘Hey, just put somebody at first if they’re hitting,’” Hinch said. “I think Tork is showing that it’s an important position. He’s got good range, maybe too much range. He wants to go after every ball when we shift.”
Torkelson got a lesson in range awareness, and a pretty good-sized scrape on his knee, in the eighth inning Friday night. He went far to his right and dived for a ball hit by left-handed hitting Cedric Mullins.
He stopped the ball, tore a massive hole in his pants where his knee dug into the ground, and saved a run from scoring — but Schoop might’ve had an easier play.
“Yeah, in hindsight, I go straight to the (first base) bag,” Torkelson said Saturday. “Schoopy’s got that ball. In the moment, I felt like I was capable of making that play so I went after it. As soon as I went after it, I was like, ‘Oh God, Schoopy can probably make that play.’ But it’s too late.”
Still, his pre-pitch thought was unassailable. A two-run lead, tying run at second, he was hell-bent on not letting any ball get through the infield.
“He’s going to learn a little bit about where he and the second baseman overlap,” Hinch said. “But similar to catchers, when you don’t notice a first baseman because every play is made and every ball is picked, it’s a good thing.”
Entering the game Saturday, Torkelson had fielded 244 balls, made 230 putouts with 14 assists, and not a single error.
“I’ve played a lot of games at first base and I’m out there almost every single day with Santy (coach Ramon Santiago) and Tram (special assistant Alan Trammell) when he’s here and when I was in the minor leagues,” Torkelson said. “I’m out there doing picks and different drills working on being a good first baseman.
“Santy wants me to be a Gold Glove first baseman. I want to be a Gold Glove first baseman. And I’m putting in the work and doing my best to fulfill his goal and my goal.”
His work at first base, which allows Hinch to keep playing Schoop at second base full-time, has bought Torkelson some leeway as he works through his early struggles at the plate. His two singles Friday was a welcomed sight in that regard.
“Tork is pretty good at first base,” Hinch said. “That’s one of the reasons whey we are patient with him as he figures out his offense. Because he’s still contributing. And when I say he’s contributing, it doesn’t always mean a single to left or line drive to the gap. That will come, but the defense being consistent will help him stay.”