Detroit – It was just a little more than three years ago, on a sun-kissed afternoon at Comerica Park much like this one. Al Kaline was standing behind the batter’s cage. Miguel Cabrera was in the dugout. General manager Al Avila, assistant GM David Chadd and other members of the front office were milling around.
Up to the plate stepped a skinny, 18-year-old from Oviedo, Fla., whom the Tigers had just selected with the fifth overall pick in the draft.
Three years and 11 days after he wowed everyone present by knocking baseballs onto the Pepsi Porch in right field, that kid, not so skinny anymore, was back at Comerica Park Saturday poised to make his Major League debut.
“It’s a very surreal moment,” Riley Greene said, the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect meeting with the media some three hours before running out to center field for the first time as a big-leaguer.
Greene was with the Toledo Mud Hens in Worcester yesterday when he got the call. Adam Melhuse, who is running the ballclub while Lloyd McClendon is in COVID protocol, called him into his office. Greene assumed he wanted to talk hitting. It’s what they’d been talking about the past couple of days.
“I was thinking he was going to show me a video on his laptop or something,” Greene said. “He was asking me questions and stuff and I just happened to look down to my left for some odd reason and I saw a camera and it was on. It was a GoPro and I could see it was on.
“I was like, ‘OK, whatever dude.’”
Captured for posterity. Melhuse dropped the news that Tigers’ fans have been thirsting for — Riley Greene, pack your bags, you are going to the Show.
“It was awesome,” Greene said. “I was happy. Real happy. I wasn’t expecting it at that moment, that’s for sure. And I’m glad he got me at that time because right when I got back to my locker my phone was blowing up.”
He called his parents and his girl friend and started scrambling to get a flight to Detroit. Only there weren’t any.
“I couldn’t find anything, flights were canceled or delayed,” he said. “Because of the U.S. Open, people were going in and out. It was impossible to find a flight.”
He ended up spending the night at the airport hotel and catching an early flight Saturday morning.
“I did sleep,” he said. “I got to a point where I just shut my phone off. I just need a couple of hours to myself here.”
His parents were in scramble mode, too. They couldn’t get a flight to Detroit out of Orlando so they flew to Pittsburgh and drove the four-plus hours to see their son’s debut.
“I had a bunch of friends text me that they couldn’t make it,” Greene said. “I said, ‘Listen, it’s fine. I have enough to worry about here.'”
It’s been two and a half months since Greene, who was expected to be the Tigers’ Opening Day center fielder, broke a bone in his right foot in one of the final spring training games. His physical recovery was a little quicker than was predicted. His baseball readiness, though, has been a little slower to come around.
In 17 games he was slashing .274/.338/.357 with one homer and four doubles.
“I’d say I’m very, very close,” Greene said. “It comes with at-bats, but I’m feeling great in the box. Mentally I’m 100 percent and with the hitting my approach is there. I’m ready to go physically, mentally and emotionally. I am just, ready.”
Manager AJ Hinch talked to Greene Friday night and again Saturday morning. His message was the same as it was to Spencer Torkelson, Kody Clemens, Beau Brieske, Alex Faedo and the other prospects who’ve made their debuts this season — be yourself and enjoy the moment.
“There’s nothing better than your debut and he gets a beautiful day in Detroit, playing on his home field, it’s a great opportunity to soak it up,” Hinch said. “Like I told the others, you only get one first day.”
The Tigers had been debating when to bring Greene up for the last couple of weeks but the move was hastened by outfielder Austin Meadows testing positive for COVID.
“The one thing I don’t worry about with Riley is his approach,” Hinch said. “With guys like him come great expectations and there’s going to be a lot of attention on everything he does. But I think he’s going to be able to handle the joy that comes with all of this.
“But when you put this in perspective, we want the guy’s career. We don’t want his first three days to go good and the rest of his career to go bad. We need him to perform, for sure. But we have a really good play on our hands that we need to break into the big leagues.”
Greene, Hinch said, is not a finished product. He will have a learning curve and will have to endure all the ups and downs that most young players go through. That’s all part of it. Just 21, Greene seems acutely aware of the that. He’s seen his friend and roommate Torkelson go through it.
“Tork is a great player and he’s going to hit. That’s what he does,” Greene said. “You just try to stay mentally strong and not worry about what you did last night. Worry about what you are going to do today. Just try not to harp on all the negativity.
“Stay positive and have fun.”
Speaking of harping on negativity, Greene is arriving in the midst of a six-game losing streak, with the team ranked at or near the bottom of most offensive categories.
“We’re a team,” he said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to win. I’m going to try my best to help the team out, whatever I’ve got to do. We’re going to win baseball games. That’s all I got to say.”
AROUND THE HORN
… Tigers starting pitcher Michael Pineda (broken finger) is scheduled to make a rehab start at Toledo on Tuesday. He will likely have to make at least two starts to build up to five innings.
… The Tigers claimed 25-year-old catcher Ali Sanchez off waivers from St. Louis and optioned him to Toledo. He will join veteran catchers Dustin Garneau and Ryan Lavarnway on the roster, plus utility man Brady Policelli. Sanchez, who has big-league time with the Mets and Cardinals, was hitting .255 and slugging .409 at Memphis.
… Reliever Jacob Barnes, who was designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers and was given his outright release.
Rangers at Tigers, Comerica Park
TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit, FS1, 97.1.
RHP Dane Dunning (1-4, 4.04), Rangers: Another pitcher who made his MLB debut against the Tigers. His was in August of 2020 when he was with the White Sox. He struck out seven and gave up three runs in 4.1 innings. He’s coming off six scoreless, two-hit innings against the Astros. He doesn’t throw a pitch over 90 mph but he gets a 32% chase rate mixing sinkers, sliders and change-ups.
RHP Drew Hutchison (0-4, 4.58), Tigers: He gutted out four innings on 62 pitches in his first spot start last week against the White Sox. That’s the longest outing for him this season, here or at Toledo. He’s a savvy veteran who knows how to mix his pitches and work the margins of the strike zone, evidenced by his 30% chase rate.
— Chris McCosky