September call-up more than just a token reward for Tigers’ Torkelson, Kreidler

Detroit News

Detroit — Infielder Ryan Kreidler, the Tigers’ No. 7-rated prospect, is finally here. First baseman Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 who struggled out of the gate and was sent back to Triple-A Toledo, is back.

Riley Greene has been manning center field and hitting leadoff for a couple of months. Outfielder Kerry Carpenter is up. Akil Baddoo is back up here. Kody Clemens is here.

The club’s young core of developmental position players is getting a group audition in September. Of course, as manager AJ Hinch has said, the two toughest times to evaluate players are in spring training and in September — especially for a team out of the playoff race.

So what’s to be gained this month?

Plenty.

“We’re trying to pour a foundation with these guys for next season,” Hinch said. “But I want to win games. I want them to understand, it’s all fun that they get to come up here, but that is not the success. The success is winning games and winning series and I want them to understand the urgency that has to happen.

“There is a comfortable environment we’re trying to create for them to grow. But there is the realization that we don’t just try hard at this level. We have to compete and succeed to be in the big leagues.”

It’s not an easy balance to reach, though the players involved — particularly Kreidler and Torkelson — are mature young men, aged 24 and 23, respectively.

“We don’t want to put so much pressure on them that they can’t breathe,” Hinch said. “But you can’t just sit back on your heels and make it nice and cozy and comfy and be OK with failure. They have to learn, they have to grow and we have to teach them —  give them a chance to succeed and fail. All while understanding that the team across the way is the opponent and we have to beat them.

“We can’t lose sight of the objective of the day. It’s not to gain experience. It’s to gain experience while winning.”

Darkness to light

Torkelson was striking out once every four at-bats before he was sent back to Toledo at the All-Star break. Asked about all the mechanical and mental adjustments he went through, he just put his head down.

“Gosh,” he said. “We could go down a deep, dark rabbit hole. I would say mainly getting back to the solid foundation that I had and get the trust back in my hands.”

Torkelson, at least by the numbers, wasn’t killing the ball against Triple-A pitching. But his swings were better. His at-bats were better. He was striking out less and driving the ball more. All good signs.

“Obviously, it wasn’t easy,” he said. “It was a tough road. It had to get worse before it got better.”

Torkelson and hitting coach Adam Melhuse, who was also brought up to the Tigers for the month of September, continually tried new things, new tweaks, new adjustments. As Torkelson explained it, he’d try a new idea for a few games and it would be horrible. Melhuse would give him something different.  Rise, rinse and repeat.

Until finally, a few weeks ago, something clicked.

“I just kept grinding every single day until my old keys started to click and I started to feel like myself again,” he said. “It was a relief. It’d been a while since I felt that.”

The hard thing for Torkelson to grasp was that it was his hands that were the problem — the hands as they relate to bat path and the ability to attack and adjust to balls in different areas of the strike zone.

“That’s what I always prided myself on in hitting,” he said. “My hands. That’s what gave me the confidence at the plate that there was nothing a pitcher could throw and get it past my hands. To have that confidence at the plate again is nice.”

Torkelson was crestfallen on that rainy day in Cleveland when Hinch called him in and told him he was being optioned to Toledo. Looking back now, it was the best thing for him.

“As much as I didn’t want to go down, I think in the long run, it was a good move,” he said. “I’m going to be better because of it. I learned a lot. Adversity makes us all better.”

Hinch doesn’t want Torkelson to ever forget that feeling he had in his office in Cleveland.

“I don’t want him to erase anything,” he said. “I want him to use it as a lesson learned. In all aspects, there is the success and failure portion of life. You use the failures to find whatever is next for you — what you’ve learned and how you’ve done it. 

“But if you continue to harp on the bad times, you’re going to bring that into today and that’s not psychologically healthy, either. Every day is a step forward. Take the lessons and be better.”

Validation for Kreidler

First, it was a broken hand, drilled by a pitch earlier in the season. Then he injured his groin. There was a stretch where Kreidler couldn’t string two healthy weeks together.

But he’s nothing if not perseverant.

“You know, I was never putting it on the clock or on a timer,” Kreidler said of his big-league arrival. “Everybody’s timing is different. As much as I would’ve liked to be up earlier, it is what it is. Getting hurt is never in your control when you get hit by a pitch. Just some bad luck.

“But the fact is, I’m here now and it’s really rewarding to be here. I feel proud of that.”

He and Torkelson, plus coaches Alfredo Amezaga and Melhuse, boarded a plane out of Rochester, N.Y., Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon had given Kreidler the news Wednesday night.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Lloyd said some really nice words to me, a conversation I would like to keep private. It was a really special moment.”

As were the phone calls to his parents, brother and grandparents.

“I didn’t think I was going to cry doing it,” he said. “But it was the culmination of a lot of work. You just never know. There are no guarantees in this game. Everything is earned. So I am really proud of that and excited to be here and help this team win games.”

Hinch joked that he was going to bust on Kreidler for getting called up to the big leagues after going 0-for-5 (Wednesday).

“No, he made me feel very welcome,” Kreidler said with a smile. “Hopefully, I stick around long enough to have a lot of 0-for-5s in the big leagues. With that being said, I’d like to have some not 0-for-5s in the mix, as well.”

Both Torkelson and Kreidler were available off the bench Thursday, but were expected to be the starting right side of the infield Friday against the Royals. 

Twitter: @cmccosky

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