Riley Greene showed off his battered forearm in the clubhouse.
The 21-year-old center fielder fully extended his body in the right-center gap Saturday at Chase Field. He stole extra bases from Buddy Kennedy with a head-first diving catch on the outfield turf, which resulted in the first out in the sixth inning, a scraped right forearm and MLB’s Play of the Week.
“It was like a rock,” Greene said. “It hurt, but it’s fine.”
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Greene has sparked the Detroit Tigers since debuting June 18, doing so with offense and defense. Entering Wednesday, the team is 4-5 with Greene on the roster, an improvement in a small sample from 24-40 without him.
To go with high-quality plate appearances, the No. 2 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, is piling up the web gems early in his career; Saturday’s diving catch was one of the best catches the Tigers have seen in years.
“Being up here is awesome,” Greene said. “I haven’t really learned much, just trying to find a routine and sticking to it. With my outfield stuff, I’m doing some early work every day to get the glove moving.”
First baseman Spencer Torkelson, a fellow rookie, celebrated by hugging him and picking him up in the dugout.
“There’s a lot of things, having the ability to track something down like that,” left fielder Robbie Grossman, a 10-year veteran, said. “His first step was great. When I saw the ball hit, I didn’t even look at the ball. I just watched him. I was like, ‘He’s got a bead on it.’ When I watched the video, it was even more impressive. I hope he makes more plays like that.”
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Greene also completed a sliding catch for the second out in Saturday’s seventh inning. He charged a pop fly off the bat of Josh Rojas and hauled it in with his glove positioned outside his body, rather than in front of his body, in shallow center field.
On Sunday, the Arizona Diamondbacks had the bases loaded with one out in the third inning.
Christian Walker, a slugger with 38 RBIs this season, ripped a fastball to the left-center gap. Greene, once again, chased down the ball, made a diving catch to take away extra bases and saved runs from scoring.
Greene isn’t an elite defender, but he has solid instincts, particularly when running back on balls in the outfield. His pre-pitch preparation is much better than last season. Tracking down balls in front of him remains a work in progress.
Some in the organization believe Greene, the fifth overall pick in 2019, will fit better as a corner outfielder.
“He started studying himself (in minor-league minicamp in February),” manager A.J. Hinch said. “If you watch his minor-league video, he goes back very, very well. That’s another key point. When you start fast, you can finish plays. When it takes you longer to read plays, you’re not going to get to as many balls. I’ve noticed Riley is pretty good at making a quick decision.”
For now, Greene is the Tigers’ starting center fielder.
“I’m not the fastest guy out there,” Greene said. “I’m quick, but I’m not fast, fast. I feel like getting the best jump I can get and getting the best route to the ball I can get is big for me, because I’m not going to kill them with speed out there.”
In Greene, Hinch trusts
For Sunday’s series finale, Greene was penned into the cleanup spot in Hinch’s lineup for the first time in his career.
The Tigers were facing left-hander Dallas Keuchel, and with Javier Báez’s .346 batting average and .957 OPS against lefties, Hinch wanted his slugging shortstop in the two-hole and Greene cleaning up.
“If they want to roll around a third time through the order with Dallas, then I got to make sure he faces Báez,” Hinch said. “It would be very easy for Torey (Lovullo, Diamondbacks manager) to stop it at Riley, if I had Riley hitting second and Javy hitting behind him. He could get away with it. But if he wants to get to Riley, another lefty, he has to get through Javy and Miggy (Miguel Cabrera).”
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Entering Wednesday, Greene has spent three games at No. 2 in the batting order, two games at No. 4, three games at No. 5 and one game at No. 6. Greene, unless his production forces a change, is teed up as a mainstay in the top-half of Hinch’s lineup moving forward.
In nine games, Greene is hitting .290 with three RBIs, eight walks and six strikeouts. Seven of his hits are singles. He collected his first extra-base hit in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss in San Francisco.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and sticking to my game plan,” Greene said. “I’ve been swinging the bat, having good ABs, trying not to swing at one bad pitch and get out. I’m trying to have good ABs, make pitchers work and whatever happens, happens.”
But the singles aren’t a reason to be concerned.
The quality of his plate appearances is the main reason to be excited about his future. He drew five walks in his first 13 plate appearances, and after 17 plate appearances without a walk, he worked a pair of walks across five plate appearances Sunday.
Also, Greene hasn’t struck out more than once in a single game.
In Triple-A Toledo last season, Greene hit .308 with eight home runs, 22 walks and 51 strikeouts in 40 games. Of his 49 hits, 20 went for extra-base hits. Although he is without a homer in the majors, he has not been overmatched.
“The most impressive thing to me is his ability to stay in at-bats,” Grossman said. “It just shows you what kind of hitter he is, and how mature of a hitter he is. Guys come up when they’re 26 and struggle.
“It’s not even about results at this point. Results would be nice. But the quality of an at-bat every time has been outstanding. That’s why he’s hitting at the top of the lineup. It’s very impressive to see for someone that young.”
Next up: Giants
Matchup: Tigers (28-44 entering Tuesday) at San Francisco (39-33).
First pitch: 3:45 p.m. Wednesday; Oracle Park, San Francisco.
TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit; WXYT-FM (97.1).
Probable pitchers: Tigers — RHP Rony Garcia (2-2, 4.57 ERA); Giants — LHP Alex Wood (5-6, 5.05 ERA).
More online: Tuesday’s series opener in San Francisco ended after this edition went to print. Visit freep.com/sports for the game result.