Greene, Torkelson helping each other out

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — For all the struggles Spencer Torkelson has experienced in his first few months as a Major Leaguer, he has remained a very disciplined hitter. He rarely chases pitches outside the zone — his chase rate is in the 82nd percentile among all big-leaguers — which is what made his offer at Dennis Santana’s 2-2 slider down and off the plate seem troublesome.

But instead of an inning-ending strikeout, Torkelson reached out and got enough of the breaking ball to flare a ball into center field. The resulting two-run single put the Tigers ahead for good in Sunday’s 7-3 win over the Rangers.

“It’s huge for the game,” manager A.J. Hinch said, “let alone his own psyche and his own confidence. Just being part of a win, it’s a long time coming.”

Said Torkelson: “Good things happen when you just get the ball moving forward. … I was going to put that ball in play no matter what.”

Call it the Riley Greene effect. Hinch doesn’t mind it; he joked to Greene during Saturday’s win that he had fixed Tork at the plate.

While the questions leading up to Greene’s promotion from Triple-A Toledo a couple of days ago centered on what kind of impact Greene could make in the big leagues, an underlying mystery was what impact he could have on Torkelson. The former top prospect had largely ridden out the rookie experience on his own ever since Greene’s fractured right foot in Spring Training meant that Torkelson would open the season in Detroit while Greene would open on the Triple-A injured list.

It wasn’t necessarily a factor in the call, but it was a curiosity. Before Greene’s injury, they’d been tied together so closely since Summer Camp in 2020 that Hinch has even batted them back-to-back in the lineup on most days dating back to Spring Training.

“In Greene and Tork, the relationship is obvious. They’ve talked about it since instructional league,” Hinch said. “I remember the story of those guys competing against each other, being the captains of their [instructional league] teams.

“I think what is probably under-talked about or understated is that Tork really hasn’t had a ton of guys he relates to in the clubhouse. And that’s not saying they’re not taking him under their wing; they are. But 21, 22 years old is pretty young to be in a Major League clubhouse and trying to navigate your way through breaking into the big leagues, and now he’s got his boy with him. It is nice to have one of your own kind to have dinner and spend some time. I think they’re going to live together. That has to pay dividends for both.

“Ironically, everyone’s crediting Riley as the one that’s going to make Tork relax and feel better about himself, but I think it’s mutual. We’re hopeful. I put them next to each other in the lineup. I don’t know if it’s going to necessarily always be that way, but I believe it.”

Through two games as Major League teammates, Greene has two hits and four walks, including two walks Sunday. His fifth-inning, two-out walk not only chased Rangers starter Dane Dunning from the game, but loaded the bases for Torkelson against Santana.

Torkelson added another single leading off the eighth inning against another former top overall Draft pick, Rangers reliever Matt Bush. The two-hit game was Torkelson’s second in a row; he had consecutive multi-hit games just one other time this season.

Torkelson was one of the first players to say Greene could be a spark for the Tigers upon learning of his call-up Friday. Two wins and 21 runs later, he says hitting is contagious.

“Having Riley Greene in the lineup always helps, no matter what team it is,” Torkelson said. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”

This is largely the lineup the Tigers thought they would be taking into the season before Greene’s injury. While Greene has had a couple singles, his plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone has been badly needed on a team that ranks near the bottom of the league in walks and near the top in chase rate.

“He’s not going to get a hit every game,” Hinch said, “but he’s going to put up pretty good at-bats when he’s locked in.”

Greene is the fifth MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospect to debut with Detroit in the last three seasons, joining Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Spencer Torkelson. Add in former first-round pick Alex Faedo and former 27th-rounder Beau Brieske, and the biggest fruits of the Tigers rebuild have all reached the Major Leagues. In many ways, the future has arrived, and many of these Tigers have a chance to grow together going forward.

On the flip side, that means the future is now. Infielder Ryan Kreidler, Detroit’s No. 6 prospect, might be the only prospect left who could have an impact this season, and that isn’t certain. Left-hander Joey Wentz, the Tigers’ No. 11 prospect, could rejoin the rotation later if he recovers from his shoulder issue. Otherwise, aside from a couple pitching prospects, the next wave of young talent is at least a year away.

The waiting game is largely over.

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