Tork breaks out of slump with 2-HR, 5-hit day

Detroit Tigers

SEATTLE — The swing looked like one of Spencer Torkelson’s college highlights from Arizona State, the ball exploding off his bat as he extended his arms. The resulting line drive went a Statcast-projected 426 feet to left field at T-Mobile Park with a 110.6 mph exit velocity, the second highest of his rookie season.

This was a Tork Bomb, the kind of highlight homer that propelled him to the top of the 2020 MLB Draft class and eventually atop MLB Pipeline’s Top Prospect rankings. Though the two-run homer came in a 7-6 loss to the Mariners — the first of two defeats in a doubleheader sweep — near the end of a frustrating season, it was a sight for sore eyes.

By the end of the twin bill, it was becoming a familiar sight. Torkelson homered to nearly the same spot in the nightcap, a 9-6 Detroit loss, sending a 409-foot loft to left off the last of four sliders down and in from Seattle right-hander Penn Murfee.

“He didn’t have really good command of his fastball, so slider was definitely in the back of my mind right there,” said Torkelson, the first Tigers player to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Jeimer Candelario against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Sept. 10, 2020.

“It’s nice to see some hard work pay off,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s been grinding a little bit.”

Torkelson entered Tuesday in a 2-for-34 slump after a 14-for-45 stretch from Sept. 5-19. After raising his season average above .200 for much of September, he fell back below the Mendoza Line this past weekend. With a 5-for-9 performance in the doubleheader, he’ll enter Wednesday’s season finale with a .204 average.

More importantly, Torkelson hit the ball hard. His homer in Game 1 was his hardest-hit ball since he crushed his first Major League homer at an exit velocity of 111.5 mph on April 15 at Comerica Park. His fifth-inning single in Game 2 was a line drive into left-center field at 107.8 mph, his seventh hardest-hit ball this season, starting a string of three singles and a Kody Clemens grand slam.

Torkelson’s hard contact had been a trend before Tuesday. Ten of his 18 highest exit velocities have been hit in the past month. Not all have been rewarded; the list includes four of his six hardest-hit outs.

“I know he’s got some small goals he wanted to accomplish this month,” Hinch said. “He’s starting to zero in on those and get rewarded for some good swings. The pull power has been nice to see.”

Torkelson didn’t get into many specifics on what those goals are.

“One of the goals was just to show up with confidence every single day,” Torkelson said. “I think that’s a huge key in this game.”

It’s also a big part of sending Torkelson into the offseason with a better feeling than he had for much of the year. Once the season ends, Torkelson will head home to Arizona, where he doesn’t plan on picking up a bat for a while. How long depends on how he feels.

“I’ll definitely take a week, two weeks off of not really anything, no baseball, no heavy lifting,” Torkelson said last week. “I’ll be like three weeks into no baseball and I’ll be itching; I’ll want to pick up a bat. But we’ll see. I haven’t figured that out perfectly yet. A lot of guys are different. Some guys don’t pick up a bat until January. I can never [do that]. We’ll see.”

The Tigers plan on keeping tabs on whatever he does.

“We’ve already talked about where he’s going to be and what he’s going to do, where he’s going to work out,” Hinch said. “The good news is our whole organization is going to be able to stay in touch with our players this year, thankfully. Whether that’s everything from the workouts to nutrition to the baseball-skill development to just as humans, we’ll be able to have kind of deeper connection with our guys.

“Tork will benefit from that. We’ll benefit from that, as well as the players. I think it’s going to be really fun in the month of October to have some exit interviews, to talk to these guys and listen to what they experienced this season. We’ll have a better feel for what our impact can be after that.”

Torkelson’s experience has been unique. He entered the season with high expectations on a team on the upswing. By the All-Star break, he was batting below .200 in Detroit and was sent back to Triple-A Toledo, where he struggled for his first couple of weeks before finding a groove and earning a return call on Sept. 1. The swing has been better, if not always the results.

Torkelson wants to process all of it.

“You take all this information and all the failures of the year and kind of narrow it down to a couple things, like: ‘What do I need to work on most?’ And then, that’s what you hammer in the offseason,” Torkelson said. “I mean, it is what it is at this point, but I’m looking forward to working on some things.”

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