A step toward stardom: What Detroit Tigers’ Riley Greene showed over 2 games in Cleveland

Detroit Free Press

Fastballs up, curveballs down, strikeouts.

Cleveland Guardians right-hander Triston McKenzie, who pitched eight scoreless innings Thursday and has a 0.93 ERA in six career starts against the Detroit Tigers, executed his plan flawlessly.

Rookie center fielder Riley Greene, the Tigers’ leadoff hitter in his inaugural season, couldn’t tell the difference between his fastball and curveball, and the 21-year-old struck out swinging four times on curveballs below the strike zone.

MORE ON GREENE: Tigers rookie Riley Greene is franchise leadoff hitter of present and future

The big question: How would Greene respond to his second “golden sombrero” — four strikeouts in one game — over a seven-game stretch?

“Turn the page,” Greene said. “You can’t go back in time and redo anything, so what’s done is done. Can’t change anything, so you just got to focus on what you’re doing today. That’s it.”

Carrying at-bats from one game to the next can be kryptonite, especially for young players at the highest level. But Greene is not like other youngsters. He is already the undisputed best hitter on the team. (Granted, the 2022 Tigers have the worst offense in baseball, scoring the second-fewest runs per game in the DH era.)

Juxtaposing the early results of Greene, the 2019 No. 5 overall pick, and rookie first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick, paints the picture. As Torkelson has consistently struggled since Opening Day, Greene has been a steady presence in the lineup from the moment he arrived in the big leagues June 18.

The industry views Greene as a star in the making.

“Riley Greene today, after the four punch-out performance, is just the same as he was when he hit his walk-off homer (July 2),” manager A.J. Hinch said. “That’s not easy to do at this age and at this level and with this many expectations. It’s a tribute to his character.”

In Friday’s game, Greene hammered a first-pitch fastball from Guardians right-hander Zach Plesac in the first inning. He hit the ball hard — posting a 104.3 mph exit velocity — but flied out to deep left field.

THURSDAY’S LOSS: Tigers stumped by Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie in 4-0 loss to Guardians

FRIDAY’S LOSS: Riley Greene homers, but Tigers can’t hold lead in 6-5 loss to Guardians

Greene received another first-pitch fastball, this one elevated at the top of the strike zone, in his second at-bat against Plesac in the third inning. He got his bat on plane with the ball and produced a 106.9 mph exit velocity. His swing generated a 386-foot solo home run to right-center.

The second homer of his career.

But Greene wasn’t done.

In the fourth inning, Greene stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Throwing first-pitch fastballs led to hard contact in previous at-bats, so Plesac dialed up three straight changeups.

Behind 1-0 in the count, Plesac leaked back-to-back changeups near the top of the strike zone. Greene fouled off the first, then crushed the second. He smacked the ball with a 108.4 mph exit velocity, drove in two runs for a 5-3 lead and ended up on second base with a double, chasing Plesac from his start.

The rookie finished 2-for-5 with a home run, double, three RBIs and a strikeout.

So much for Thursday’s four-strikeout game, right?

“If he wants to play like that every day, it’d be the player we think he can be,” Hinch said. “He’s got to have a short memory on nights like last night. He did that tonight. He had an excellent bounce-back game.”

In 26 games, Greene is batting .252 with seven extra-base hits (two home runs), 11 RBIs, 15 walks and 28 strikeouts. His 109 wRC+, entering Saturday, makes him an above-average offensive player, and his career is just getting started.

The future is bright for Greene.

What happened Thursday and Friday in Cleveland is another example of his developing stardom.

“For Riley and development at this level,” Hinch said, “that’s a great lesson to take away.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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