Detroit — Sitting in the dugout hours before the game, manager AJ Hinch was asked what he liked best about rookie Riley Greene so far. Hinch didn’t miss a beat.
“One hundred miles per hour off the bat,” he said.
Why wouldn’t he? Greene had two baseballs fly off his bat Tuesday night with exit velocities better than 100 mph and accounted for three runs, helping the Tigers beat the Cleveland Guardians for the third time in two nights, 11-4, at Comerica Park.
Dating back to the series in May, the Tigers have won four straight games against Cleveland. That hasn’t happened since they won seven straight between Sept. 4, 2014 and April 12, 2015.
Greene torched a 2-1 cutter from Guardians starter Cal Quantrill, sending it into the right-field corner for an RBI double in the Tigers’ four-run second inning. That ball left his bat at 109.8 mph, topping his previous hardest-hit ball (109.7).
In the fifth against reliever Nick Sandlin, he drove one 371 feet into the gap in left-center, another double, this time scoring two runs. The exit velocity on that one, 101.4 mph.
“I’ve said it 100 times and I’m going to keep saying it, momentum is key,” Greene said. “If one person swings it, the next person is going to swing it and the next person is going to swing it. It’s just passing it down the line.”
Greene has reached base in 15 of his first 16 games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no Tigers hitter has done that since Quintin Berry in 2012. Greene has gotten hits in all but four of those 16 games.
“We had good at-bats today across the board,” Hinch said. “And we continued to tack on runs. It was a good offensive day for us and we needed it after a long day yesterday.”
Speaking of 100-mph off the bat, catcher Eric Haase continued his power surge, too. Getting a rare start against a right-handed pitcher, Haase scalded a 2-0 cutter from Quantrill in the fourth inning, sending it into the seats in right-center field, an opposite-field laser.
The two-run homer, which put the Tigers up 6-2, was Haase’s seventh, tying him with Javier Báez for the team lead. It was his fourth in his last seven games and fifth since June 18.
Haase lined a double off the wall in right-center in the sixth, too, triggering a three-run inning that put the Tigers up 11-2.
The Tigers put eight balls in play with exit velocities of 100 mph or better.
“We got some soft hits early but we got key hits at the right time,” Hinch said. “Riley’s doubles, Hassey’s homer. We got some big hits after a number of good at-bats where we made them work.
“That’s the kind of offense we have to be, where we’re a little bit of a quick strike.”
Victor Reyes got into the fray, too. He had three singles, knocked in three runs and scored twice.
Not to be overlooked, Miguel Cabrera, his batting average again poking above .300, produced his eighth three-hit game of the season. He also walked, knocked in a run and scored twice.
“It’s incredible,” Greene said. “Me and Tork (Spencer Torkelson) looked at the scoreboard and it’s like, ‘Miggy is three-for-three.’ Then he walked. Now he’s three-for-three with a walk. It’s pretty cool to be able to watch all of that.”
A sidebar to the Tigers’ offensive barrage was veteran right-hander Drew Hutchison. Signed and released three times in the last two seasons by the Tigers and signed for a fourth time on June 29, he pitched five strong innings, allowing only one earned run and leaving with a 6-2 lead.
“I felt good,” he said. “I had a good game plan and I did a good job of attacking. That offense is going to put the ball in play. Haase did a good job behind the plate and the guys did a good job of putting up runs.
“I just tried to stay aggressive and I felt I did a good job of doing that.”
Hutchison said he didn’t carry any extra emotional baggage into the game from the DFAs and re-signings.
“Look, I’m going to go out and do the best I can,” he said. “I believe in myself. I believe in the pitcher that I am. But I am here to help us win. … It’s just good to get a series win against a division opponent.”
Still, a deal is a deal. The Tigers assured him he’d have a clear path back to the big leagues.
“I’m happy for him,” Hinch said. “Him coming back was big for us with all the injuries we’ve had. We held up our end of the bargain and he held up his end of the bargain.”
Things got a little wacky late. Both teams used position players to finish the game.
The Guardians finished the game with catcher Sandy Leon pitching the seventh and eighth innings. Throwing sliders between 75 and 79 mph, he dispatched all six Tigers hitters he faced.
The Tigers used utility man Harold Castro, who started the game at shortstop, to pitch the ninth and gave up a run.
“I hate it,” Hinch said. “But I think you’re going to see a little more of this. They (Guardians) had nothing to lose. I get why they’re going to do it. We’ve done it on the down side of the game. But I think this may be the first time I’ve ever done it in my career on the positive side (with his team winning).
“It’s all lose-lose for me. But we’re trying to save as many pitchers as we can. So you might see a little bit more of this in these types of games.”
Teams can only carry 13 pitchers, with five starters and eight relievers. The situation became more magnified Tuesday when the Tigers lost the services of reliever Wily Peralta.
He left the game in the eighth inning with a left hamstring spasm.
“I don’t see how he avoids the injured list,” Hinch said. “He said he felt like a little cramp the previous pitch. We just thought he’d stumbled on the mound. He waved us off and we thought he was fine. But it grabbed him on the next pitch.
“He will get tests tomorrow, but we can’t have any of our guys unavailable.”
If Peralta does go on the IL, most likely Will Vest will be recalled from Toledo. He was optioned out Monday night.