Kreidler gets first MLB hit, shows off 2-way value

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Ryan Kreidler scorched the first pitch he saw as a Major League hitter Friday night for a line-drive with a 73 percent hit probability, but it went right at a shifted infielder. He recorded two walks, two runs scored and a sacrifice fly before he could celebrate his first Major League hit. So it was fitting that the baseball gods smiled upon his soft contact Saturday.

While the Tigers had a rough night in a 12-2 loss to the Royals at Comerica Park, clinching their sixth consecutive losing season, Kreidler had another good evening showcasing the skills that could help make him part of turning that around.

After his first big league RBI on a sac fly briefly brought Detroit even, his two singles had a combined expected batting average of .260, according to Statcast. But they both came with two strikes, rewarding him for putting pitches in play.

“It doesn’t matter where it falls. Good things happen when you make contact,” manager A.J. Hinch smiled.

That has been a point of improvement for Kreidler. While his 22 home runs last year between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo helped him gain notice as a standout prospect, his 158 strikeouts in 550 plate appearances reflected some all-or-nothing swings. He dropped his strikeout rate to 30.7 percent in Erie to 24.1 percent in Toledo, helping him post a .304 average and .926 OPS down the stretch.

Kreidler’s injuries this season — a broken bone in his right hand in April, then a groin strain in July — kept him from finding a rhythm at the plate until recently, reflecting in a 28 percent strikeout rate with the Mud Hens. He fanned 34 times over 116 plate appearances in August, but his 20 walks showed a more selective approach as he regained his timing.

“Just more reps, playing every day, getting more at-bats, seeing pitches, getting your timing back, seeing the ball,” he said earlier this week. “Yeah, a couple tweaks here and there, but that’s always going to happen in a season. Nothing too mechanical, just more experience, getting back in the swing of things.”

Though Royals starter Jonathan Heasley fanned seven Padres over five innings in his previous start, the Tigers made him work for his seven quality innings Saturday even after falling behind big. Kreidler moved ahead in the count with runners at second and third and one out in the second inning, declining to chase a pair of sliders in the dirt. He fouled off a high fastball on a 2-0 count, but got a 2-1 fastball that he could lift for a sac fly to score Spencer Torkelson.

“The sac fly was very important in that time of the game,” Hinch said.

Kreidler stepped to the plate in the fifth inning following Tucker Barnhart’s solo homer whittled Detroit’s deficit to 7-2. Instead of getting too aggressive and hacking, Kreidler took five pitches for a full count as he waited for Heasley to come back over the middle of the plate. When Heasley challenged him in the zone with a 92 mph fastball, Kreidler’s swing wasn’t solid, but the resulting chopper got the job done, sending him dashing into first as third baseman Hunter Dozier bobbled the ball.

The celebration was muted, both from Kreidler and his parents in the stands, but Royals first baseman and fellow rookie Nick Pratto said something to get a smile out of him.

Two innings later, Kreidler came back up following Barnhart’s leadoff walk. Heasley, sensing the finish line in his outing, attacked him in the zone. Kreidler fouled off a fastball and curveball, but popped out a slider in just the right spot to fall into short right field.

Add in a diving stop at third base that robbed Dozier of a hit in the second inning — plus a few innings at shortstop once Javier Báez was lifted for rest — and Kreidler had a productive game on an evening that needed more of them for Detroit.

“He plays the game so well,” Hinch said. “Defensively, he had another excellent day. His first step is great. His energy is great. His arm is fantastic. He got on base a couple times.

“He’ll start to settle in a little bit. He’s going to play second [on Sunday], get him in the middle of the field. But it sure is nice to have his vibe around the team.”

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