ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers need first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, to heat up at the plate if the team wants to improve upon its abysmal start.
Torkelson, who entered Wednesday with four singles in 38 at-bats this month, finally found his extra-base power. His a fifth-inning leadoff double was his first extra-base hit since April 23; he added a seventh-inning solo home run. Both hits came on sliders at the bottom of the strike zone in Wednesday’s series finale, a 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
The Tigers (13-25) have lost 10 of 12 series in 2022.
“Good day for Tork,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Hopefully, that frees him up, frees up his mind up a little bit to keep doing his thing. It’s time for him to start warming up. Today’s a good start. … Should give him some confidence.”
Torkelson entered Wednesday with 101 at-bats this season and a 68 wRC+. (Weighted Runs Created Plus measures run creation and accounts for external factors, like ballparks, with 100 equaling MLB average.)
The 22-year-old didn’t seem fazed ahead of Wednesday’s multi-hit game.
“I’m not too worried,” Torkelson said, as he laced up his shoes in the clubhouse before indoor batting practice. “I feel like most of my outs, and I’ll tip my cap to some pitchers that made really good pitches and got some calls, but some of my outs I think are an easy fix. Like, I’m right there. The next 100 (at-bats), those outs that I made are going to be knocks.”
Torkelson isn’t alone. Several veterans, such as second baseman Jonathan Schoop (35 wRC+ in 37 games), shortstop Javier Báez (62 wRC+ in 29 games), third baseman Jeimer Candelario (73 wRC+ in 36 games) and outfielder Robbie Grossman (80 wRC+ in 34 games), are looking for their knocks, too.
Torkelson, trying to avoid a demotion to Triple-A Toledo, has proven he can handle the pressure of the big leagues. His positive attitude, despite lackluster results, and support of his teammates are admirable. He’s also an above-average defender at first base.
Even with the big Wednesday, Torkelson is still hitting .173 with four home runs, 15 walks and 37 strikeouts over 34 games, with a .289 on-base percentage and a .308 slugging percentage. His wRC+ jumped 15 points, to 83, after his 2-for-3 performance against the Rays.
Before Wednesday’s game, Torkelson talked about being more aggressive when pitchers make mistakes inside the strike zone. Too often he swings and misses or takes called strikes inside the zone, though he doesn’t swing at many pitches outside the zone.
“You got to really find the happy in between of like selective aggressive,” said Torkelson, who boasts an elite 21.1% chase rate but a disappointing 31.4% strikeout rate. “I’m not chasing pitches, but when that mistake comes, I’m not attacking it. It’s literally the closest fix, like an easy fix.”
Hinch sat in the Tigers’ dugout Tuesday and offered insight into the difference between hitters — he named Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman — and swingers.
The biggest difference: A hitter adjusts his swing mechanics based on the pitch, whereas a swinger employs nearly his same swing mechanics regardless of the pitch.
“I’ve seen that in recent years,” Hinch said of swingers. “They call those groove swings, and they have a certain mechanic to get the bat to a certain position. We have so much data that gives us feedback on where the bat should be, and then you realize that it’s never an exact science because the ball is not on the tee. That’s for golf. We’ve got to be able to adjust and react accordingly.”
Then, Hinch shared what he described as “the bottom line on hitting.”
“If you’re missing pitches inside the strike zone, that’s a little more mechanical,” he said. “If you’re swinging outside the strike zone, we can’t judge mechanics until we fix your approach.”
Torkelson has been missing pitches inside the strike zone.
Finding a fix, in his opinion, has nothing to do with his mechanics.
“It’s more mindset than mechanics,” Torkelson said. “My swing is my swing.”
Revenge is served for Paredes
Rays third baseman Isaac Paredes slowly walked out of the batter’s box in the third inning, watched the ball fly, flipped his bat and pulled his necklace out from underneath his jersey before trotting around the bases.
If Paredes wanted revenge, he got it against the Tigers.
“That was actually just the adrenaline,” Paredes said Wednesday in an on-field postgame interview. “I just reacted. That’s what my heart felt at the time, and so I just did whatever felt normal.”
Paredes, an ex-Tiger, pulled two home runs into the left-field seats — he added a solo homer in the eighth — and beat his old teammates in Wednesday’s series finale. The Tigers traded Paredes to the Rays on April 5, just three days before Opening Day.
“He got into leverage counts, got good pitches, didn’t miss them and hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Hinch said. “He’s a good player. We knew that. We got a good player in return. That ex-team thing is real at this level.”
General manager Al Avila packaged Paredes with the No. 71 overall pick (Competitive Round-B) in this year’s draft to acquire outfielder Austin Meadows, who doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2024 season.
Paredes, a former top prospect, thought he would start the 2022 season with Triple-A Toledo.
“It was something surprising,” Paredes, 23, said Tuesday, sitting in front of his locker in the Rays’ clubhouse. “The truth is, I wasn’t expecting it. It took me by surprise.”
Instead of northern Ohio, Paredes was headed to northern North Carolina and Durham, the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. It marked his second trade in less than five years; the Chicago Cubs shipped him to the Tigers in July 2017 as part of a package for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.
“My goal was to take it as something positive,” Paredes said, “to be able to begin my career in the big leagues and stay here for several years.”
Paredes finished the three-game series with two hits in six at-bats, after pinch-hit at-bats Monday and Tuesday. The Rays called him up from Triple-A on Monday, and he arrived at the ballpark midway through the game.
He played for the Tigers in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
“I’m very appreciative of them, being able to live out my dream with them,” Paredes said. “They gave me the opportunity to reach the level that I did, and I’m very appreciative of that opportunity.”
Through nine games for the Rays, Paredes is hitting .280 with two homers, four RBIs, zero walks and five strikeouts. In Triple-A, he hit .263 with four homers, 18 RBIs, 13 walks and 19 strikeouts in 25 games.
Meadows, the return for Paredes and the draft pick, went on the 10-day injured list Monday with vertigo. He is hitting .267 without a home run in 28 games this season.
For the Tigers, Paredes played 57 games in parts of two seasons. He made his MLB debut in August 2020 and, despite a mature approach at the plate, never showed he could hit for power in the big leagues. He hit .215 with two home runs, 18 walks and 35 strikeouts.
But Paredes shined in a Mud Hens uniform, hitting .265 with 11 homers, 56 walks and 47 strikeouts across 72 games in 2021.
“It was really tough over there. It was out of my control over there,” Paredes said about his MLB playing time. “But I think the opportunities here are much more positive. … I think there’s many more opportunities here. The manager has told us, ‘If you’re a starter or you’re not, you’re going to have an opportunity to play and there’s going to be a lot of chances with the way this team operates.'”
‘A little pinch on my side’
Before Paredes nuked the Tigers, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez exited Wednesday’s start with one out in the first inning. He experienced discomfort in his left side while warming up and threw 23 pitches in the game before the pain became unbearable.
“I felt a little pinch on my side,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, who signed a five-year, $77 million contract in November, suffered an “oblique-related” injury, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Tigers are waiting for MRI results to get the official diagnosis, but Rodriguez is expected to be placed on the injured list.
“He’ll be down for a bit,” Hinch said.
That leaves the Tigers down five starters: Rodriguez (left side), right-hander Casey Mize (right elbow sprain), righty Michael Pineda (right middle finger fracture), righty Matt Manning (right shoulder inflammation) and left-hander Tyler Alexander (left elbow sprain).
That’s not including righty Spencer Turnbull, sidelined since late July 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. Manning will come back from his injury next week, barring a setback, but the Tigers don’t have timetables for the returns of Rodriguez, Mize, Pineda and Alexander.
“We’re going to test our depth,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “Our bullpen has been fantastic. They’ve been asked to cover a lot of innings. Guys have been asked to come up from the minor leagues and eat innings, as well. I can’t say enough good things about those guys. We’re in that situation again. Hopefully, we can continue to move forward and bide our time until we get some guys back.”
So, what’s next?
“It’s something you never want to happen,” Rodriguez said. “Starting pitchers want to be out there every five days. Fortunately, some of those guys are getting ready to come back. It’s something nobody wants to happen, but it happens.”
Here’s the locked-in rotation for the upcoming three-game series against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field, after Thursday’s off-day: Tarik Skubal (Friday), Alex Faedo (Saturday) and Beau Brieske (Sunday).
And here’s how the rotation appears to line up for the next three-game series, against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, running Monday-Wednesday: TBD, Manning, Skubal.
“We’re still going to play the games, so we have to figure it out,” Hinch said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
Rodriguez would’ve started Monday, with Manning likely filling Tuesday’s opening as he re-enters the rotation.
Manning’s third and final rehab start for Toledo was rained out Wednesday, so he won’t pitch for the Mud Hens until Thursday’s doubleheader. Still, Manning should be available to start Tuesday.
“It sucks,” Hinch said of the weather in Indianapolis. “That’s another bad outcome. We’re going to need two pitchers anyway, so what order we go in is not going to matter.”
That leaves Monday’s start wide open.
Left-hander Joey Wentz, who made his MLB debut in a spot start May 11, could join the Tigers. He was optioned to Toledo on May 12 and can’t return to the majors for 15 days — until May 27 — unless the Tigers activate him in a corresponding roster move when Rodriguez lands on the injured list.
The Tigers also could bring up righty Elvin Rodriguez, righty Chase Anderson or righty Nivaldo Rodriguez. There’s one spot open on the 40-man roster. Right-hander Rony Garcia, who stretched out to 54 pitches in relief of Rodriguez on Wednesday, might be a candidate, too.
Right-hander Garrett Hill earned a promotion from Double-A Erie to Toledo on Wednesday. He is the Tigers’ No. 26 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Wentz ranks No. 12.
• After one start for Toledo, Faedo showed up to Detroit amid the injury bug and made his MLB debut May 4. He has since made three starts — posting a 2.87 ERA with four walks and 12 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings — and seems to have cemented himself in the starting rotation. For his early success, Faedo credits his 66.9% strike rate. “The plans that the catchers and the coaches have had against the opposing teams have been pretty good,” Faedo said, “and I’ve been able to stay ahead in counts. I think that’s really helped me out a lot.”
• Right-handed reliever Will Vest shared some interesting information May 13, following the Tigers’ 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. The 26-year-old recorded his first MLB save, and his teammates celebrated with a beer and baby powder shower. “Someone threw tuna on me,” Vest said. “Probably someone that doesn’t like me, so I’ll have to figure that out.” Making an MLB Network appearance Wednesday, Vest informed his national audience the culprit was righty reliever Jason Foley. “I almost threw up,” Vest said on MLB Network. “Those beer showers, they smell horrible. But I told him, he’s still got his (first save) to come, so whenever he has his, I’m getting payback. I’m going to have to step it up a little bit.”
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