Chicago — Like a lot of things he does, Riley Greene’s ability to self-assess and take accountability is beyond his years and experience level.
Going into Saturday’s game he’d struck out 40 times and walked just twice in his last 108 plate appearances covering 24 games. His slash-line over that stretch was .221/.241/.356.
In terms of on-base frequency and overall damage, it’s not what you’re looking for in a leadoff hitter.
Talking before the game, he is fully aware of that, painfully aware of that. But he stopped just short of calling it a slump.
“When I started the season up here, I walked a lot and I was feeling really good and seeing the ball really good,” Greene said. “But when you get into these little holes every now and then and you’re trying to make things happen, you start chasing pitches out of the zone.
“You really are trying to make things happen instead of letting it come to you.”
To his point, in his first 12 games, he was hitting .302, getting on base at a .434 clip with more walks (10) than strikeouts (eight). Since, he’s hitting .219 with seven walks and 55 strikeouts.
“I think he’s been in a swing-first mentality,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “Sometimes that’s good. But because he thinks he can hit a lot of pitches, he swings at a lot of pitches and that gets him in a little bit of trouble. His zone discipline was a little better when he got here, that’s one of the reasons he got off to such a good start.
“That’s faded a little bit. I see a lot more anxiousness, just that youthful exuberance in trying to do all sorts of things offensively and be one of the anchors of the offense.”
It’s a function of seeing most of these pitchers he’s facing for the first time. It’s a function of trying to will some life into what has been a moribund offense. As Greene said, “I’ve been overswinging a lot, trying to hit the ball 7,000 feet instead of just 325 feet. A homer is a homer.”
What it is not, though, is a function of him being overwhelmed or overmatched. He will fight you on that.
“I would say I am getting myself out more than I want to,” he said. “Sometimes a pitcher gets you and your tip your cap to it. But I really think that I am getting myself out in most of my at-bats. It’s a learning process. I am going to learn from it and I’m going to get better.
“But there hasn’t been one moment here that I’ve felt overwhelmed. There hasn’t been one guy I faced that I feel I can’t hit. It just comes with feeling good and the swing being there. It’s not always going to be there.”
You know how in basketball shooters always say the only way to get out of a slump is to shoot your way out? Well, Greene deploys the same mentality at the plate. You aren’t going to walk your way out of a slump — er, sorry, hole.
“You kind of have to punch your way out of trouble,” he said. “I’m never going to worry about the walks or the strikeouts. You’re always going to strike out, depending on how much you’re going through. Obviously, I don’t want to strike out as much as I have been. But it happens.
“I feel like the walks happen when you are swinging it really well. I’m going to be better for it.”
As of this moment, Hinch has not wavered on writing Greene’s name at the top of the order. Walks and on-base average aren’t the only desired attributes for a leadoff hitter.
“In an ideal world, you would have someone who gets on base but who also can be dangerous,” Hinch said. “Sometimes we think of on-base as walks only. You still have to hit your way at this level. I also think that once you get past that first at-bat and everyone is getting to the ballpark and getting settled into the game – after that it’s over.
“The leadoff portion of that role is over. Now that guy is getting the most at-bats of anybody on the team.”
Remember who is managing this team. Hinch for years had George Springer leading off for him in Houston. That’s the type of game-changing threat he wants at the top of the order. He’s a little envious when the Yankees can put Aaron Judge at the top of the order, when the White Sox can put a healthy Tim Anderson at the top.
“The threat of what they can possibly do is so important,” he said.
Greene can be that type of threat.
“If he goes to the second spot in the order, does that make it better or not?” Hinch said. “I don’t know. It depends on the makeup of your club and the balance you have of lefties and righties. But when you have one of your best hitters leading off a game, it’s uncomfortable, even though there’s nobody on base for that very first at-bat.
“Zone discipline is so important whether Riley is hitting first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth. You still need to know a ball from a strike and swing at the right pitches.”
For now, there is nobody threatening to take the leadoff spot from Greene. His swings in recent games have been calmer, smoother, even if they haven’t produced results. He feels like he’s close to being right.
“It’s just learning at this level as a young hitter,” Hinch said. “Sometimes it’s positive and sometimes he has to take his lumps while he develops.”
He’s about ready to deliver some lumps.
“I really hope it does come, because I need it,” Greene said, laughing as he walked out of the clubhouse to take another round of swings in the cage.
Garcia gets the call
Hinch said before Saturday’s game that right-hander Bryan Garcia will be called up from Toledo on Monday and serve as the 27th man for the doubleheader in Cleveland. Hinch said he will pitch the second game. Drew Hutchison would start Game 1.
That start was going to go to either Garcia or rookie lefty Joey Wentz. Both pitched at Toledo on Wednesday. Wentz needed 67 pitches to go 2.2 innings.
“Joey needs an outing or two more to make sure we are past that second rehab,” Hinch said.
Wentz missed most of two months with a neck and shoulder issue.
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Tigers at White Sox
First pitch: 2:20 p.m. Sunday, Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
LHP Tyler Alexander (2-6, 3.83), Tigers: This will be his fourth start since he rejoined the rotation and he continues to build endurance and keep the team in the game. He’s allowed two runs in each of the three previous starts, covering four, five and, in his last start against Cleveland, seven innings. Since he changed the grip on his slider, opponents are just 3 for 28 against it. His 90-mph four-seam fastball is holding hitters to a .147 average with a 20% whiff rate.
RHP Lance Lynn (2-5, 5.88), White Sox: He had a late start to the season and he hasn’t quite found his groove yet. This will be his 12th start. The hard-hit rate against him (43%) is the highest since 2018 and the homer rate (5%) is the highest of his career, 13 in 59.2 innings. His four-seam fastball velocity is down by 1 mph, but it’s still beating hitters up in the zone on the regular. His issues have been with the cutter and sinker.