Success and struggle: Tigers’ Riley Greene puts cap on his rookie season

Detroit News

Seattle — What you appreciate, besides his humility, immense talent and the promise he represents for Tigers baseball, is his unvarnished honesty.

By just about any measure, Riley Greene had a solid rookie season. He won’t be in the talk for rookie of the year. His OPS-plus hovered around the Major League average of 100. But he patrolled center field like he was born to play there. His pre-pitch routine, reads and breaks on balls hit his way were textbook.

When he was asked before the season finale Wednesday what from his 93-game rookie season he will take out and focus on this offseason, he talked, of all things, about being less selfish at the plate. The guy who preached passing the baton all season felt like he, at times, got too greedy at the plate.

“I came up here and I hit pretty well early,” Greene said. “Then, I was kind of not taking what I was given. I was like, ‘I want more homers. I want more doubles. I don’t want to hit singles all day long.’ That was kind of selfish on my part and I dug myself a hole pretty early.”

Greene was hitting .300 in early July. But from July 4 through Aug. 19, his batting average dropped 70 points, as he hit .206 in 42 games with 65 strikeouts in 190 plate appearances.

“It’s hard to get out of those holes, especially up here in the big leagues,” he said. “It’s just being able to take what the game gives you and not trying to press. Don’t try to do too much.”

It’s a lesson Hinch has preached repeatedly. Don’t chase. Don’t chase strikeouts if you are a pitcher. Don’t chase power. Both are byproducts of getting in leverage counts and staying within your own mechanics.

“I started asking myself, ‘Is my swing messed up?’” Greene said. “No, it wasn’t my swing. It was my mind. It’s all mental.”

Greene responded by reaching base in 20 straight games and hitting .277 with an OPS of .736 from Aug. 20 on.

“Players having a combination of success and struggle is always good,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You’d prefer they’d break in and have massive numbers and be completely comfortable and dominate the strike zone and dominate the performance. But the way Riley handled it has been as equally impressive as any of the positive things he’s done.

“The silver lining is, these guys are being tested at an early age and it’s going to put them on the right path.”

As much as he’s gained from his struggles, nothing has steeled his resolve for next year more than the losing.

“You learn a lot when you lose,” Greene said. “Losing sucks. These past couple of weeks, we’ve been playing really well and that shows the potential this team has. I’m excited for next season.”

Coffee break

It was fairly amusing Wednesday morning to see 12 of the Tigers players dress up in full uniforms and file out of the clubhouse about three hours before game time heading for a Starbucks almost a half-mile away from the stadium.

Miguel Cabrera quickly grabbed his Tigers’ hoodie and raced out with them. Which prompted Javier Baez to say, “Miggy’s going? They aren’t ever getting back here in time.”

This is what rookie “hazing” looks like these days. First- and second-year players were instructed to get coffee for the coaches and everybody in the clubhouse — in full uniform, walking the four blocks to the Starbucks store.

This was the mastermind of veterans Eduardo Rodriguez and Andrew Chafin, who initially set it up to do in Detroit at Mad Cap coffee house. But that plan fell through.

“That was a fun idea from Eduardo and Chafe and some of the veterans to keep the young guys humble,” Hinch said.

Of course, rookie hazing was much different, much less PG-13, in Hinch’s playing days.

“I had to carry a football through the plane while I served drinks and food, and if I lost the ball, fumbled, it would’ve cost me a thousand bucks,” Hinch said. “I had to wear a Raiders helmet because I hated the Raiders. I loved the Broncos.

“I didn’t have to go get coffee but I had to carry a football wearing a helmet and very little else.”

Around the horn

…Hinch was pushing buttons right to the end. In the ninth inning, he brought right-fielder Brendon Davis in from right field and deployed five infielders with runners on the corners and one out and lefty Gregory Soto facing left-handed hitting Jarrod Kelenic. “One last time for old time’s sake,” he said. “You may never see it again with the new restrictions coming in.” The strategy was nullified when Soto walked Kelenic.

… It took Davis just seven at-bats to notch his first big-league hit, which he did in Game 2 Tuesday. “With the season ending I was sweating it a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave here without getting a hit.”

… Tucker Barnhart, a pending free agent, said he’s leaning toward hitting left-handed only next season. He went back to switch-hitting this year. “Not that I struggled right-handed, it’s just there are things that hitting left-handed against left-handed pitching helps me with. Your swing has to be more polished to have good at-bats left-on-left. Looking back at last year (when he hit only left-handed), I was happy with how consistent I felt at the plate and I think it had a lot to do with hitting left-handed against lefties.”

Twitter@cmccosky

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