Riley Greene has given Tigers an unmistakable spark; ‘it’s a lot of fun when we win’

Detroit Free Press

Riley Greene sat in front of his locker in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, looking so comfortable.

Like he belongs.

Just two weeks into his major league career, he had the presence of a veteran.

“What has surprised you the most about being here?” I asked him.

“I don’t really know to be honest,” he said.

Maybe that says everything. Nothing about this is surprising him. He walked in the door completely prepared.

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But he pondered the question for a few seconds.

“Everyone in the clubhouse is awesome, from the players to the staff,” Greene said a few hours before going 2-for-5 with 3 RBI and scoring a run in an 11-4 win over Cleveland. “Just being a part of this team is awesome.”

Then, he flipped the subject.

“It’s a lot of fun when we win,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

Maybe, that was the coolest part.

Ask Greene about what it’s like in the big leagues, and he starts focusing on winning.

That’s good news for the long term for Tigers fans.

Because he’s not going anywhere for a long time.

Since Greene’s debut, the Tigers are 9-7.

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Since Greene moved into the leadoff spot, the Tigers are 4-2. 

This 21-year-old rookie has given this team an undeniable lift. Sometimes, with his defense. Sometimes, just getting on base with a walk. And sometimes with a big hit — he had two of them on Tuesday night, cranking a couple of 100-mph plus exit-velocity doubles.

“We’re swinging the bats really well,” Greene said. “It’s just momentum. You know, one person gets a hit, pass it on the next person. We’re all having a lot of fun here.”

Well, it’s fun now that Greene is here.

The same ol’ Riley

The back of Greene’s baseball card is already filling up with special nuggets.

Greene picked up his first hit in his first MLB at-bat.

He became the first Tigers player to reach base four times in his big-league debut since Scott Livingstone on July 19, 1991.

He reached base multiple times in each of his first four games, becoming the fourth Tiger to do so and the first since Hub Walker in 1931.

He hit his first homer — a walk-off solo shot, becoming the seventh Tiger in franchise history and the first since Lou Whitaker in 1978 to hit a walk-off for his first big league homer.

And in his first 16 MLB games, he reached safely in 15 of them — the first Tiger rookie to do that since Quintin Berry in 2012, according to Elias Sports.

It has been a fantastic start. But I can’t say I’m surprised.

Greene looks how he has always looked.

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This is the same kid who walked into Comerica Park on June 7, 2019, after signing with the Tigers, and started cranking batting practice homers in front of Al Kaline and Miguel Cabrera.

This is the same kid I saw in the fall camp a year later in Lakeland, Florida, showing all kinds of leadership skills (that will be his next stage on this team; he’s going to be the Alpha dog in this clubhouse someday).

This is the same kid I saw multiple times as he climbed from West Michigan to Toledo, hitting .291 in 198 minor league games, cranking 30 homers and 37 doubles.

This is the same kid that was raking during spring training (and then got hurt).

He’s. Always. The. Same.

Maybe, that’s his superpower.

Greene is the the same player every day. And it doesn’t matter the situation.

If there was pressure about being one of the top prospects in the minor leagues.

If there was pressure about being a rookie with so much attention.

If there was heightened expectation about being moved to the top of the batting order.

He hasn’t been fazed by any of it.

Which is what has most impressed Tigers manager A.J. Hinch.

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“I think more than anything, he doesn’t play with the burden of expectation yet,” Hinch said. “He might. Maybe it weighs on him, the more things go or if you go into a cold stretch. But I think for him, he has the same youthful vibe that he’s that he had in spring.”

“I like that he’s himself. He’s the best version of himself — undeniably calm and confident and energetic and youthful and he hasn’t tried to be somebody different.”

Sometimes, players get to the big leagues and try to be who they think they should be.

“I’ve seen a lot of young players try to be something different when they first get here,” Hinch said. “He just shows up ready to play and and hasn’t really changed a thing demeanor wise.”

‘Momentum is key’

Three years ago, he was a senior in high school.

A year ago, he was in Double-A Erie.

But he just keeps hitting. He is the same at every level.

Fangraphs has had the best description of Greene that I’ve seen: “Greene’s swing is somehow lovely and ferocious at the same time.”

He showed off that lovely but ferocious swing in the bottom of the second inning on Tuesday, with a guy on second.

He ripped a 109.8 mph shot into the right field corner, an RBI double that gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead.

“He left the cutter down a little bit,” Greene said. “I got my hands through it and just kept it fair enough.”

In the fifth, he ripped another double — a 101.4 mph blast — to deep left, driving in two runs.

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“Momentum is key,” Greene said. “If one person swings it, the next person is gonna swing it … just passing it down the line.”

At some point, he will cool off. At some point, he will struggle — all major leaguers do.

But he seems prepared to handle it.

After grounding out in the sixth inning, he crossed first base and paused, going through his swing without a bat, realizing instantly what he had done wrong.

He didn’t freak out. Just made a mental adjustment. Already preparing for his next at bat.

This kid is special.

Just being himself.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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