Detroit Tigers break out the bats and no team has needed it more

Detroit Free Press

Maybe it was Riley Greene, the Detroit Tigers‘ top prospect called up for his anticipated MLB debut. Maybe it was the Detroit Stars uniforms as part of Negro Leagues Weekend. Maybe it was a little bit of everything.

Whatever the reason, the Tigers looked like a different team in Saturday’s 14-7 win against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Despite falling behind in the top of the first inning, the Tigers quickly took the lead on a pair of home runs, refused to let up and built on their advantage.

“I’ve been around a long time,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said before Sunday’s series finale. “I’m not sure that any team has needed it more than we needed something like that yesterday.”

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Eight of nine players in the lineup had multi-hit performances, and the offense totaled 19 hits. The all-around production snapped a six-game losing streak, and although the Tigers are 25-40, there’s optimism for continued success.

“The way that we hit yesterday, that’s who we are,” Willi Castro said. “We got to keep in that way and go out there and compete. … It’s going to do a lot for us. We have a team to go to the playoffs. We just got to battle and have fun with the guys.”

The reality is one game doesn’t change anything.

“We’re going to prepare the same,” Hinch said. “We’re not fixed. We’re nothing more than prepared to win today’s game.”

The Tigers have the third-worst record in the American League. They average an MLB-worst 2.82 runs per game, an improvement from the 2.56 clip entering Saturday’s 14-run outburst. FanGraphs gives the Tigers a 0.3% chance to reach the postseason.

If the Tigers start winning consistently, much like they did beginning May 8 last season, the date June 18 — also known as Greene’s MLB debut — will be remembered as a turning point.

“We’ll see,” Hinch said, staying true to his win-the-day mindset. “You’re only as good as the challenge the next day. Obviously, it can build confidence. I think it can relax people. We know anybody can spark us.”

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Greene paced the offense with two hits and two walks in five plate appearances, but the biggest impact came from three home runs: Robbie Grossman and Javier Báez in the three-run first inning, and Eric Haase in the five-run fourth inning.

Hitting for power must continue.

“We always knew we could do something like that,” Grossman said. “The more important part is today’s another game. Yesterday is over with, and today is all that matters. I’m looking forward to going back out there today and collectively, as a team, putting together good at-bats.”

The Tigers rank last in MLB with 34 home runs, 12 behind the Oakland Athletics. Detroit is led by Jeimer Candelario (on the injured list) and Jonathan Schoop with five homers apiece.

Báez, hitting .192, has four homers in 53 games.

Grossman, who paced the Tigers with 23 homers last season, went deep for the first time this season, then hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat Sunday. Báez homered for the first time since May 22, and Haase did so for the first time since May 14.

Those players combined for 76 home runs last year.

In 2022, they have nine home runs with 96 games left on the schedule.

“It’s nice to know that it’s still in the tank,” Haase said. “We’re not going to roll over and give away the rest of the season. We’re not even halfway through. There’s a lot of baseball to be played.

“If anything else, playing for the other guys in the locker room. Everyone is here. They still have to get their numbers. They’re still trying to contribute on a Major League Baseball team. Regardless of our record now, we got to go out and try to win today’s game.”

Riley Greene and the batting order

In his MLB debut, Greene hit sixth in the batting order.

The 21-year-old moved up to the No. 5 spot for Sunday’s game, behind Báez and ahead of Spencer Torkelson.

The situation reminded Hinch of Carlos Correa in June 2015 with the Houston Astros. Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, hit sixth in the lineup for his first two games, then moved up one spot.

“I like to have less pressure in your first couple of games, to where you’re not asked to do more than you should,” Hinch said, “and then perform your way to the top or the middle. There’s no doubt that our hope is Riley’s a middle-of-the-order bat to top-of-the-order bat.”

By Correa’s fifth game, Hinch made him the leadoff man for the Astros, just a few months from their first playoff appearance since 2005. He stayed in the top three spots in the batting order and won the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year.

Correa, now with the Minnesota Twins, is a two-time All-Star in his eighth MLB season.

“The trick is when to do it and when to bestow the most at-bats your team is going to get on a young player,” Hinch said. “I could’ve put him in the one or two slot yesterday, and it probably wouldn’t have fazed him, because that’s the way he is. Easing him in has always been successful for me with young players that have the potential that he has.”

Adding a young catcher

The Tigers claimed catcher Ali Sanchez off waivers Saturday from the St. Louis Cardinals and optioned the 25-year-old to Triple-A Toledo. He has played seven MLB games in his career.

“Pretty good defensive catcher,” Hinch said. “He’s been around one of the best in the world in Yadi Molina, so I have to hope that’s been a positive influence. We claimed him in hopes of expanding our depth behind the plate. You can never have too many catchers.”

Sanchez hasn’t reached the majors yet in 2022, spending 30 games with Triple-A Memphis in the Cardinals’ farm system. He hit .255 with four home runs, 13 walks and 29 strikeouts in 30 games.

The Tigers have four catchers on the 40-man roster: Sanchez, Tucker Barnhart, Haase, Jake Rogers. There are four catchers on the active roster in Toledo: Sanchez, Dustin Garneau, Ryan Lavarnway and Brady Policelli.

“It creates some healthy competition with Haasey, Garneau, Lavarnway, Ali,” Hinch said. “That’s something that we need short-term and long-term.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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