LAKELAND, Fla. — Spencer Torkelson put on a show on Wednesday in his first TigerTown batting practice.
He unleashed some “Tork Bombs”: soaring home runs, line drives to the warning track and shots that clanked off the outfield fence.
The excitement from the Detroit Tigers organization was obvious and loud.
After one session, a coach screamed from the infield: “Yeah!”
After another session, Torkelson walked over to a hitting coach, who promptly fist-bumped him.
“I’m a little stronger,” Torkelson said. “My swing is just cleaner and feels good right now.”
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Let’s try to keep this Tork show in perspective and offer some caveats.
Yes, it was only batting practice — the first of training camp, at that.
Yes, it was against a pitching machine.
Yes, the wind was blowing out on the TigerTown backfield.
But Torkelson looked bigger. He looked stronger. And on this day, the ball was jumping off his bat.
“More in tune,” Torkelson said. “I kind of have a feel for things again. I just feel really confident at the plate.”
After watching Torkelson in batting practice dozens of times over the last few years, it is hard to remember him ever having a session like this, showing this much power, hitting the ball so squarely and consistently.
During his first round, Torkelson appeared to concentrate on hitting the ball up the middle.
But after that?
A series of “Tork Bombs.”
“It’s just going back to being myself,” Torkelson said. “I wasn’t myself last year. And I think this offseason was crucial. Just get back to being myself.”
Torkelson had a rough rookie season in 2022, hitting .203 with eight homers in 110 games. After struggling through his first 82 games in Detroit, he was sent down to Triple-A Toledo at the All-Star break to clear his head. He returned in September and hit .219 with three homers.
“I put a lot of work this offseason, both on the physical side and the mental side of the game,” he said. “I just kind of learned a lot and I took that and I got better from it and I’m taking it into this year.”
For the past month, Torkelson has worked with two of the new Tigers hitting coaches, Michael Brdar and Keith Beauregard, who both live in Arizona. The other new hitting coach, James Rowson, lives in Miami.
“They came out to hit with me a couple of times, and they’re awesome,” Torkelson said. “They really know what they’re doing. And it was really fun to work with them early before we got to camp.”
Torkelson said they offered some new ideas and changes.
“I can take it what for what it’s worth,” Torkelson said. “They gave me some tips and tricks — try this, try that. And some felt good, some didn’t, and then go from there.”
On Wednesday morning, Torkelson showed up at TigerTown and went running into A.J. Hinch’s office.
“Gave me a big hug,” Hinch said. “He’s happy to be here.”
And he is approaching this spring training with one focus.
“My mindset is gonna remain the same, whether I’m in the league for one year or 10 years,” Torkelson said. “I’m trying to earn a spot on the team and work hard every single day, get better, and just win the win that day, and then take that on to the next day.”
Well, he won Day 1.
On the clock, finally
This season, if a pitcher hasn’t begun his motion within 15 seconds (or 20 seconds with a runner on base), it will be called a ball.
So, the Tigers are trying to acclimate their pitchers to the clock during bullpens.
They placed a clock on the ground on Wednesday morning behind the catcher.
At this stage of spring training, it is only being used in the second half of bullpen sessions.
Just a taste to get them used to it.
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One dominant theme early in this Tigers camp?
Mustaches are spreading like a virus.
“It’s kind of taken over our group,” Hinch said. “I should tell them, if we have a winning April, I should grow one but I don’t want to commit to that yet. We need to have a better April.”
Catcher Jake Rogers turned a thick beard into, well, kind of a Hulk Hogan look.
“Jake warned me that it was gonna be unique,” Hinch said.
And he delivered.
Jason Foley and Tyler Alexander are also sporting some strong ‘stache game.
“Foley’s kind of a ‘stache dude,” Hinch said, “and Alexander is a ‘stache dude.”
We don’t have any word on Hinch’s ‘stache game.
But if it produces a winning April, he’d take it.
The Tigers signed left-handed reliever Jace Fry to a minor-league contract with an invitation to MLB spring training. The 29-year-old has a 5.04 ERA with 86 walks and 168 strikeouts across 139⅓ innings in his big-league career.
He pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 2017-21.
To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.