Spencer Torkelson ‘keeping his head above water’; Austin Meadows shut down again

Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch was asked before Monday’s Game 1 about a particularly troubling data point with rookie Spencer Torkelson.

Statcast shows that on balls thrown down the heart of the plate, middle-middle, Torkelson is hitting just .115. He’s hitting .174 on pitches middle-away. Befuddling. If you watch Torkelson take batting practice, he powders those pitches to all parts of the ballpark.

“This is a hard game,” Hinch said. “And these pitchers are really good. I don’t know why he’s missing some over others. I just don’t look at the game that way, at those little boxes. I understand it. I know he’s had some struggles in the middle of the plate. But I’m not sure you can coach him and say, ‘Hey, hit those balls in the middle.’”

It just seems like an anomaly. Torkelson has hit the ball hard this month. He came into the doubleheader Monday 7-for-29 with two doubles, a homer and a batch of loud outs. He’s still hitting the ball on the ground too often (46%) and struggling mightily with runners in scoring position (8-for-54, 19 strikeouts).

“He’s done a nice job making adjustments to allow himself to get to more pitches,” Hinch said. “He’s settled in a bit. He’s still going to have his moments. But I think he’s doing a nice job learning and growing and maturing.

“He’s keeping his head above water.”

If he starts to barrel up some more of those middle-middle cookies, he’s going to be swimming laps.

“I just want him to settle in and not get so dialed in on an exact pitch,” Hinch said. “When you are hitting, those boxes aren’t there. They don’t know the ball is in this box or that box. We’ve got to play the game.

“We can almost talk ourselves into thinking negatively by over-analyzing things like that. He needs to get better at all parts of the zone.”

More bad news

When the Tigers sent outfielder Austin Meadows to join Triple-A Toledo, the hope was he’d play four or five rehab games and join the team here in Kansas City.

Not happening.

In fact, Hinch said before the game Meadows is being shut down, again.

“I think we have to stop his rehab and start over,” Hinch said.

Meadows played two games with the Mud Hens and continued to report soreness in his legs. He’s been out with soreness in both Achilles tendons, which flared just as he came off the COVID-IL.

“Eventually he will go back to Lakeland,” Hinch said. “I don’t know where he’s going to do his work between now and the All-Star break. He will go home (to Tampa) for the break, but he won’t get a break. He will report every day at the facility.”

Backing Barnhart

Using defensive metrics alone doesn’t always give you a full picture of how a player is performing. Case in point: catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The metrics say he’s worth a minus-5 defensive runs saved. The eye test says he’s one of the best blockers of the ball in the dirt, he’s improved his throwing after a slow start and the pitching staff, per man, trusts him completely.

“I am as analytical as anyone, but you have to watch the game to balance some of that out,” Hinch said. “The defensive metrics can get all over the map on some people. For whatever reason, there have been pitches he gets penalized for and there are aspects of his game that don’t grade out perfectly.

“I don’t know. I watch the games and I trust him back there. He’s doing really good things. I don’t pay special attention to those things. I just think he’s a winning catcher.”

Around the horn

… Reliever Jose Cisnero, out the entire season because of a shoulder injury, could rejoin the Tigers at some point in the Cleveland series this weekend. He’s made two rehab outings for Toledo and his fastball is back up to 96 mph. He will make at least one more, possibly two more, outings with Toledo. The problem is, he’s been too efficient. In his two outings, he’s thrown nine and eight pitches.

Tigers at Royals

First pitch: 8:10 Tuesday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Scouting report

RHP Beau Brieske (2-6, 4.16), Tigers: He’s coming off the best start of his young career, blanking the White Sox on two hits over 6.1 innings. He neutralized the right-handed hitters with a biting two-seamer that he was riding in and under their hands. The start before that, he limited the Royals to three runs in six innings, overcoming a two-run first inning.

LHP Kris Bubic (1-6, 6.84), Royals: To say the least, it’s been a struggle for him. Opponents are slashing .301/.396/.500 against him, crushing his fastball (91-92 mph) at a .355 clip with a .624 slug. He’s averaging nearly six walks per nine innings. The Tigers on July 2 got five hits and three walks against him in 4.2 innings at Comerica but only produced two runs.

Twitter@cmccosky

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