How Spencer Torkelson is trying to put the pieces together and return to Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

TOLEDO — After getting demoted to Triple-A Toledo, Spencer Torkelson spent the All-Star break in reflection, fighting himself and trying to figure out what went wrong.

“I laid low for a couple of days, really reset, dug deep and had some good thoughts, had some bad thoughts and kind of battled myself through the break,” Torkelson said late Friday night, standing outside the Mud Hens’ clubhouse.

Torkelson, the once-acclaimed rookie, started the season as the Detroit Tigers‘ starting first baseman. He played great defensively but struggled offensively, hitting .197 with five homers and 76 strikeouts in 83 games.

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The Tigers gave him a long leash to try to get on track — some would say too long — but they demoted him to Toledo on Sunday. Manager A.J. Hinch told reporters that Torkelson handled it like a professional.

“It was a tough conversation,” Torkelson said. “But I know it’s a results-oriented business and I wasn’t producing. I knew I had to come down here, make some adjustments, get right, and then, you know, figure some things out, and then I’ll be back up there contributing to wins.”

Torkelson planned to go golfing during the All-Star break. But he wasn’t in the mood. “I had to cancel,” he said. “I wasn’t really feeling like doing anything.”

So he spent time analyzing the situation. “I kind of lost it in Detroit,” Torkelson admitted.

He lost his swing — or at least his consistency — and couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

He tried to adjust, but that only made it worse.

“When you’re trying to search for a mechanic, or a feel in your swing at the big-league level, you’re gonna get exposed, and we saw that firsthand,” Torkelson said. “So I think it’s just really finding myself, finding a key that works, getting back to what works and doing that, repeating that as much as possible.”

Who did he go to for support?

He had a long phone call with his parents.

“They’re obviously bummed,” he said. “But I’ve been through adversity in my life before. So you know, it’s just a little bump in the road.”

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Searching for a Tork wrench

Lloyd McClendon, the 63-year-old Toledo manager, sat in his office late Friday night and eased into a chair. He exudes an easy calm, like he has seen everything before.

It is now his job to fix Torkelson, to pump him up with confidence.

To get him out of his own way.

“Torkelson is no different than 95% of every baseball player who has ever played the game,” McClendon said. “At some point, you are gonna struggle, and most of the time, we have to come back and get it right and come back a better person.”

McClendon has a confident attitude, and he shared that with Torkelson on Friday, starting the healing process. “We talked a little bit today, just relax, have fun, get back to playing the game again,” McClendon said. “Don’t worry about the mechanics and all that stuff right now. Just get back to enjoying the game of baseball. He’s a good kid. He’s a strong kid mentally.”

Torkelson is one of the most important players in the Tigers organization.

The first pick in the 2020 draft — the Tigers need him to be a stud.

They need him to get right.

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Familiar faces in a familiar place

So there was Torkelson on Friday evening, back in Toledo, warming up for the Mud Hens.

It was the same place he spent time during the strange 2020 season, which was shattered by COVID-19, and part of 2021. Torkelson hit .238 in 40 games as a Mud Hen last year, with eight doubles and 11 homers.

“It did make it a little easier,” Torkelson said of the familiarity. “This is a great field, great facility and the coaching staff here is great, too. So it has all the tools that I’ll need to find myself again.”

After going through warmups, he stopped and signed autographs by the edge of the dugout.

The kid is a class act.

“I’m working on things in the cage,” Torkelson said. “I’m just trying to be as consistent as possible. I’m putting my head down and going to work. I’m where my feet are. So right now, I’m trying to produce. I’m trying to help the Mud Hens win. In doing that, I think I’ll find my stride as a player, too.”

He went 1-for-4 with a strikeout Friday night.

But he will cling to the one hit, a sharp single up the middle in the third inning off Columbus left-hander Tanner Tully.

“I was seeing it well all day,” Torkelson said. “He showed me all of his pitches. I was just kind of looking fastball and reacted to whatever he threw me. He threw me a change up and hit that up the middle.”

This is the first step. The fresh start. One hit at a time.

A stress-free environment to find himself.

To get the feeling back.

To get out of his his head, as McClendon said, and just start having fun again.

“It’s hard,” Torkelson said. “But I’m going to flip the script. I can make a really good thing out of this. So just gonna put my head down, work and get back up there.”

He didn’t get an apartment.

He’s staying in a hotel.

Which tells you how long he plans to be here.

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

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