Tigers not (yet) sweating the toll Riley Greene’s dives take on his body

Detroit News

Detroit — The night he ran 110 feet to steal extra bases from Houston’s Alex Bregman, Tigers center fielder Riley Greene spent more than a half hour soaking in the tub. The next morning, his neck looked bruised.

“That’s just from the massage,” he said. “I think.”

The thing about all these diving catches he’s making, they take a toll on his body. Yes, he’s still 21 years old and still has that youthful resiliency. But he’s not a small man. He’s 6-foot-3 and started the season at 215 pounds. When he lands, especially on those full superman dives he makes, he lands hard.

Replays of his catch on Bregman’s drive Tuesday showed the violence of the fall in his neck and shoulders, culminating with a face plant.

Nobody in the organization would dare discourage him from making the all-out effort he does on just about every ball hit from gap to gap. Still, there must be some level of concern.

“Of course,” manager AJ Hinch said. “There’s always a level of concern. But I don’t think you can put a governor on players and expect them to be the best version of themselves. Now, the careless running into walls for no reason and things like that, no.

“But I always look back and say, ‘We’re going to tell him to play careful and protect his body? What’s he going to say to his teammates when he plays a ball into a double when we know he could catch it?’”

There are no drills for perfecting technique on dives. It’s not something anyone practices. A lot of it is instinctual. When Austin Jackson roamed center field for the Tigers, he did everything he could not to dive. Jackson, in terms of straight-line speed, was faster then than Greene is now. But he was a little ahead of the curve when it came to pre-pitch setup and reading swings.

In 2011, he was a plus-26 defensive runs saved, without diving more than a handful of times.

Greene, though, is wired differently. If he needs to dive, he’s diving. Period.

“I think I do a good job of trying not to hurt myself, really,” he said. “I try to catch and slide instead of just hitting the ground. There’s times I’m going to slide and stick and it’s going to hurt more than others. But, like (Tuesday night), I tried to get as low to the ground as possible and catch it as low as I could so it wouldn’t hurt.”

Again, nobody is going to put restrictions on him. You have to let stallions run.

“The answer is yes on both fronts,” Hinch said. “Yes, we’re worried about the toll on his body. And yes, we’re worried about him not making plays. Marrying those two is the key. You can’t tell him to be smart when he dives or only dive in certain situations.

“I mean, you play the game as hard as you can until the final out. That’s how he’s built and that’s certainly how I’m built.”

Greene’s cheat code

We all marvel at the end result of Greene’s highlight-reel catches. But the secret to making those catches comes before he takes his first few steps.

“That’s the most important part, the jump,” he said. “Being ready for whenever the ball is hit. You can get a good pre-pitch and be ready for 150 pitches and you get zero balls. Then the last one of the game is hit to you and you’ve got to be ready.

“I try to lock in and never take a pitch off. I feel like if you can do that, you’re always going to put yourself in a good position to make a catch.”

A game-changer for Greene has been the PitchCom device. He, along with the pitcher, catcher and middle infielders (if they choose), wear the transmitter and are aware of what pitch is being thrown.

“I think it’s incredible, I really do,” Greene said. “It’s helped so much. I almost cheat to where the ball is going to go. These guys are all good hitters and most times they’re going to hit that outside pitch the other way and they’re going to pull the sliders and curves.

“The PitchCom is kind of like a cheat code, in my opinion, because it helps me get better jumps.”

Greene’s jumps rank in the top 19th percentile of baseball. He gets, on average, a 1 foot better jump than the average outfielder. He’s worth, according to FanGraphs, five runs above average and two outs above average.

“It says to me that Riley is built the right way to find the small margins in the game that can make a good player great and a great player elite,” Hinch said. “He’s fearless and that’s not taught. That’s inside his stomach and inside his heart. It’s why we are just scratching the surface on what he can really be.”

AFL gig for Wentz

The rosters for the Arizona Fall League were announced Friday and the Tigers are sending eight players to compete with the Salt River Rafters — including lefty starter Joey Wentz.

“I’m just trying to build off the base I had before Tommy John surgery,” Wentz said. “The goal is to get a bigger number of innings leading into next year. I just want to continue to build innings to where I can come in next season and throw a lot.”

With the possibility of another three starts with the Tigers before the end of the season, Wentz has thrown 70⅔ total innings between High-A West Michigan, Triple-A Toledo and Detroit. And that’s with missing more than two months with shoulder and neck injuries. He’d thrown 128⅔ innings in 2019 before tearing his UCL.

“This has been in the works since he got injured, basically,” Hinch said. “We knew his season was going to be shortened and we didn’t know how many innings he’d get. These starts he’s getting up here now are important, but it’s also important for him conditioning-wise heading into next season.”

Also assigned to Salt River are pitchers Jack Anderson, Andrew Magno and Tyler Mattison, catcher Dillon Dingler, and infielders Colt Keith and Gage Workman.

Around the horn

Hinch and pitching coaches Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves are going to meet before the team leaves for Baltimore to determine the fate of right-hander Beau Brieske.

“We need to see if we’re motivated to map out the next two and half, three weeks or just call it a successful rehab and start his offseason program,” Hinch said.

Brieske (right forearm soreness) has been throwing off the mound for a couple of weeks. If he was going to pitch competitively again this season, it would have been at Toledo.

… Miguel Cabrera (triceps) took batting practice on the field Friday for the first time since going on the IL. He’d been hitting in the cage. There is still no timetable for his return.

… The Tigers celebrated Roberto Clemente Day Friday night. Puerto Rican natives Javier Báez, Joe Jimenez and Nieves, plus Willi Castro, Greene, Alex Lange, Jeimer Candelario and Cabrera all wore jersey No. 21 to honor Clemente. Castro’s parents are Puerto Rican, as is Greene’s mother and Lange’s grandmother.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky    

White Sox at Tigers

First pitch: 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/Radio: BSD/97.1

SCOUTING REPORT

RHP Johnny Cueto (7-8, 3.09), White Sox: Talk about getting value out of a one-year deal. This will be the 22nd start for the 36-year-old and for $4.2 million he’s been a stabilizer in the White Sox rotation. Still getting a lot of chase (31%) with his deceptive delivery and five-pitch arsenal. He blanked the Tigers on five hits over eight innings back in July.

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (3-5, 4.50), Tigers: It’s been tough sledding the last three outings. He’s allowed 13 earned runs, 21 hits and five homers in 16 innings, with opponents hitting .309 and slugging .588. One of his issues has been the changeup. He threw 628 of them last year and allowed just five homers. He’s thrown 164 of them this year and yielded the same amount of homers. Hitters are slugging .603 off his changeup.

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