Lakeland, Florida — Riley Greene’s work Friday on TigerTown’s back lots probably reassured two parties: his bosses, as well as Tigers fans aching for a skilled rookie to reunite with manager AJ Hinch’s big-league lineup.
But it was another guy who showed up Friday for an intra-squad game on Cobb Field, which is part of Tigertown’s quadrant of instructional diamonds, who stole the show.
Ryan Kreidler, a power-hitting infielder who was supposed to have been on the shelf until mid-summer because of a fractured right hand, smashed a first-at-bat home run beyond the right-field fence against Franklin Perez. He added a line-out sacrifice fly to left to go with a walk, and a second fly-out to left, all just 24 days after breaking his hand during an at-bat for Triple-A Toledo, and only 17 days after having surgery to place a plate in that same hand.
Greene, 21, the Tigers’ acknowledged top prospect, was on his way to Opening Day in Detroit as Hinch’s regular center fielder when he fouled a pitch off his right foot during a Grapefruit League game April 1 at Lakeland. A fractured navicular bone was to sideline him until June, at the earliest.
On Friday, he looked fine. No hint of any lingering issues as he strolled to his four at-bats, even if results that weren’t as dramatic as Kreidler’s: ground-out to first, strikeout, walk and a bloop, opposite-field single to left.
Al Avila, the Tigers’ general manager, was present for each of his high-profile prospects’ at-bats and liked what he saw.
“Next week, at some point, we’ll re-evaluate them,” Avila said afterward, “and if everything checks out, they’ll probably be able to play in some games toward the end of the week.”
Those games, Avila said, would be minor-league rehab stints somewhere in the Tigers’ farm chain that precede a return to regular duty: Greene in Detroit, Kriedler at Toledo. Such a timetable could mean an early-June return for each player.
Avila emphasized those rehab missions remained a “possibility” that would be postponed if there were any setbacks.
“We’re not going to let those guys play in any games,” he said, “unless they’re 100%.”
As far as Greene was concerned Friday, the timetable makes sense.
“I’m feeling really good,” Greene said afterward, standing in the shade of a palm tree outside the Tigers clubhouse. “Just trying to get as comfortable as I can.
“I feel like the only thing for me now is trying to get as many reps as I can. Doesn’t matter if it’s because of the off-season, or an injury, but you need those reps.”
Kreidler, 24, a fourth-round pick from UCLA in 2019, agreed he has been healing more quickly than was expected. He was hit by a pitch and his fracture was “displaced,” leading to surgery.
“Yeah, you always try to be conservative with things,” Kreidler said Friday, “but the (orthopedic) specialist told me and our staff, ‘It’s a broken bone (fifth metacarpal — lower “pinky” finger), we’re going to put some hardware in there, line it up, and then we’re going to kind of move as you find you can tolerate pain and the swelling,’
“We’ve just been trying to monitor things, and I’ve bounced back really fast from the procedure.”
Added Kreidler: “The first week is always the toughest. But I progressed through that and now we’re into the strengthening phase. We’re being aggressive, although that’s not to say there won’t be any hiccups along the way.”
Greene’s return should have the more immediate impact on games in Detroit, although everyone from Avila to Hinch to Greene to has been careful about projections, warning against too many expectations too soon, even from a left-handed hitter as talented as Greene.
He showed Friday that this indeed will be a process after missing nearly two months of games.
“I was telling Kreidler today, it just feels weird in the box,” said Greene, who had a stunning, 11-game Grapefruit League stint, batting .429, with two home runs and a mammoth 1.548 OPS. “But the timing will come back — I’ve just got to get more at-bats.”
Greene concedes he isn’t yet ready for big-league ball, in any phase.
“I’m probably 75-80% running gap-to-gap,” he said, speaking of his outfield range. “Not at full-sprint yet.
“I just need to get in the box and get my mind right. No one wants to be on that field more than I do.”
Greene said he has been following events in Detroit. Steadfastly.
“I watch every single Tigers game — every one,” said a man who three years ago was graduating from Paul J. Hagerty High School, in Oviedo, Florida, 85 miles northeast of Lakeland. “I walk into my apartment, sit at my desk, and watch every inning.”
Greene smiled and said he would not touch questions about what he might have been able to do to help a Tigers team that has been dying for offense, even as a slew of pitchers also have been lost during a jarring spring for Hinch’s team.
“I’m just excited, really excited now,” he said. “I called my mom and dad yesterday — just excited.”
Kreidler is a right-handed hitter who went to work immediately Friday against Perez, a right-handed pitcher who has been one of the most star-crossed pitching prospects in recent Tigers history. Perez came to the team five years ago as the premier name in a three-player package the Astros handed Detroit in exchange for Justin Verlander. But a steady stream of injuries and long recoveries have kept him on an extended rehab mission in Lakeland.
Kreidler ripped a fastball, away from Perez, on a long line beyond Cobb Field’s right-field fence in his first at-bat Friday. He and Greene took other turns against Tigers prospect pitchers Ramon Rosso and Adolfo Bauza.
“I’m just trying to see the ball and get my timing back,” said Kreidler, who along with Greene and Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson, became something of a position-player troika in 2021 as they moved up the Tigers farm chain, landing finally at Toledo.
“I know Riley’s been out of rhythm for a while, too, but the fact we’re both on the back fields already is a good sign.
“It’s just fun to feel like a baseball player again — wearing pants, cleats. It was fun out there today.”
Kreidler is a past everyday shortstop who also has been working at third base and second base, either of which could be his station in Detroit, should he continue to flourish at Toledo. Fielding so far has been no more of a problem than swinging a bat.
“Taking ground balls, and that’s going well,” he said. “It’s my right (throwing) hand, so swinging and throwing were the challenges, and I’ve begun to do both more regularly.”
Now, Kreidler explained, it’s a matter of being smart and steady on his and Greene’s rebound.
“We just want to continue on this path,” he said. “We want to progress our way out of this, and do this (play) in front of an audience.”