Tigers using September to show rookies the ropes

Detroit Tigers

They’re not going to play every day, with the notable exception of Greene, but they’re going to play enough to show what they can do. Ideally, they’ll play enough for the Tigers to evaluate them for next season. For manager A.J. Hinch, that involves not just playing enough to compile stats, but enough to make mistakes and learn from them.

“I think there’s curiosity on how they respond to the challenge here in the big leagues in September,” Hinch said before Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Mariners at Comerica Park. “We’re not just playing out the schedule. We’ve got to put an environment around them to challenge them and communicate to them that they’ve got to do some things to make our team moving forward.

“There are jobs to be won here. There’s also experience to be gained. It’s important for us, it’s important for the organization, it’s important for the players to kind of lay it all out there. It doesn’t mean these guys have to get a hit in every single at-bat or make every single play, but all of the young players that are going to be here in September need to learn what it takes to be successful at this level, and not just compete at this level. We can get anybody to compete. We need to find the guys that can learn the fastest and grow the fastest and be contributors at this level.”

For Greene, that impact has been apparent for a while, even as Hinch kept him atop the order through a 20-for-107 stretch that included three walks and 40 strikeouts from July 24 to Aug. 19. He’s been on a tear since finally breaking that slump, improving to 16-for-37 over a nine-game hitting streak. He reached base safely twice Wednesday in lefty-lefty matchups against Seattle starter Marco Gonzales, drawing a leadoff walk in the first inning and legging out an infield single in the fifth.

“One of the things that some young players do better than others is develop a process that they stick with,” Hinch said. “Those are the players that you generally get to navigate the choppy waters, the slumps, the down times. In Riley Greene’s time here, everybody knew that he was supposed to play. It wasn’t necessarily the threat of him getting hits that was why we stuck with him at the top of the order through all of the ups and downs and chase for power. It was his process. We trusted that he was putting himself in a position to have a chance. I think others can learn from that.

“So when guys come up here, they’re not fighting for their jobs every single at-bat as much as they’re fighting for their jobs [based] on how they go about it and whether their process can lead to success. It’s a fine line.”

Even so, Greene makes mistakes. After the fifth-inning single, he advanced on a Victor Reyes groundout, but made what Hinch called a critical error when he broke for third base on a Javier Báez groundout to short and was thrown out. Thus, instead of Miguel Cabrera batting with a runner in scoring position and two outs — a situation in which he’s batting .382 (13-for-34) this season — he had a runner on first.

Carpenter has been a patience play since his call-up in early August. Hinch stuck with him through a 6-for-32, 12-strikeout start. He’s 6-for-12 over his last three games, including a sixth-inning single off Gonzales that set up Jeimer Candelario’s RBI hit to briefly put Detroit in front. But by testing right fielder Mitch Haniger and trying to stretch his hit into a double, he turned what could have been runners at the corners with one out into a runner on third and two outs for Candelario, who picked him up with a line drive to center.

“Ball going away from second base, Haniger spins and has to throw it a couple hundred feet,” Hinch said. “That’s more of a baserunning out by aggressiveness. But [Carpenter’s out on the bases and Greene’s] are drastically different.”

Those outs weren’t the reasons why the Tigers lost. Abraham Toro’s two-run homer pulled Seattle in front in the seventh and continued Alex Lange’s recent struggles before Gregory Soto’s 32-pitch, 14-strike ninth led to an insurance run on a bases-loaded, two-out walk. But they’re examples of the youthful mistakes likely to continue down the stretch as Hinch and the Tigers evaluate. How the kids respond will be key.

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