Spencer Torkelson feels ‘back to normal’ in his return to Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

Spencer Torkelson looks a little more comfortable these days.

Success, of course, is the driving factor. It’s been just nine games, but the 23-year-old — as of 18 days ago — is showing positive signs. This is the beginning of what the Detroit Tigers hope is a strong response to his first-stint failures. The big leagues exposed him.

After 83 games with .197 batting average and a .577 OPS, the Tigers demoted the 2020 No. 1 overall pick to Triple-A Toledo.

“I’d like to say that I’m just back to normal,” Torkelson said Monday afternoon. “It’s not like a super high, it’s just, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve been disciplined in my approach, and I’m looking for my pitch. If I get it, I’m putting my ‘A swing’ on it. If the pitcher beats me, I’ll tip the cap and get him next at-bat. That’s the mentality.”

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At the beginning of the year, Torkelson and Akil Baddoo were the two nonveteran position players in the everyday lineup. These days, Torkelson is surrounded by Riley Greene, Ryan Kreidler, Kerry Carpenter and Kody Clemens. The Tigers, in an effort to evaluate for 2023, have been filling the lineup with youngsters.

Torkelson is a pivotal piece of the Tigers’ future.

“I think he’s settling in as a big-leaguer,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We kind of forget he was 22 when he started and made the Opening Day roster. He wasn’t surrounded by many peers. Now he’s got some guys around him that he’s played with in Double-A and Triple-A. At the end of the year, you expect him to take a step forward maturity-wise. We’re kind of witnessing that on a day-to-day basis now that he’s back.”

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In Monday’s 7-0 loss to the Houston Astros, Torkelson finished 0-for-4 and grounded into a double play in the fourth inning. But the exit velocities on his four balls in play: 105.5 mph, 106.1 mph, 107.1 mph and 105.4 mph. Per MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, Torkelson became the 10th MLB hitter this season to produce four balls with at least a 105 mph exit velocity in a single game.

The others: Nathaniel Lowe (Aug. 24), Byron Buxton (June 17), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (June 10), Christian Yelich (May 5), Bo Bichette (June 11), Rafael Devers (May 24), Matt Olson (May 31), Joc Pederson (May 24) and Oniel Cruz (Sept. 6).

“Tork and (Eric) Haase both had good at-bats,” Hinch said.

Lowe had three hits and a home run; Buxton had two hits and a homer; Guerrero, two hits (against the Tigers); Yelich, two hits and a homer; Bichette, two hits (against the Tigers); Devers, two hits and a homer; Pederson, three hits and two homers; Olson, four hits and a homer.

Torkelson didn’t get any hits.

He flew out to deep left-center field, where the walls in center and left meet at the end of the visitor’s bullpen, with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the first inning. The ball traveled 416 feet and would have been a home run in 24 MLB ballparks. But not Comerica Park.

Trailing 2-0 and facing left-hander Framber Valdez, one of the best pitchers in the American League, a three-run shot would have changed everything.

Instead, the Tigers were shut out for the 21st time this season.

“It’s a mental grind,” Torkelson said before Monday’s game. “I’ve gone through it. A lot of guys in this clubhouse have definitely gone through it at some point in their career. They may be going through it now. It’s about staying positive, competing every pitch and never losing confidence in yourself and your ability.”

Monday’s game was just one example of Torkelson’s positive signs in his return to the Tigers, but the point is he’s hitting the ball harder — from 37.9% with 6.8% barrels before his demotion to 65.4% with 19.2% barrels after his recent promotion, according to Statcast — and finding success. His average exit velocity has skyrocketed from 89.5 mph to 98.4 mph.

“His willingness to make a few more adjustments faster has been notable,” Hinch said. “You have to be willing to do it in the game and not just in the batting cage. He’s done a nice job of that. It’s also nice to get some hits. That just settles things around you.”

Earlier this year, the big leagues seemed to overwhelm Torkelson. He would sit in his locker every day and binge his at-bats on an iPad. Torkelson says if you watch video, you’ll see his problems weren’t mechanics related. His swing hasn’t changed.

Torkelson is hunting pitches he wants, making contact at a higher rate and hitting more line drives.

And finally, he is doing some damage on fastballs.

“It was all approach,” Torkelson said. “Being disciplined to that approach, getting a good pitch to hit and putting that ‘A swing’ on it. And not letting the pitcher dictate how I’m swinging it. I’m still up there hunting my pitch.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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