Detroit Tigers’ surprising power surge might be the best part of this spring so far

Detroit Free Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Spencer Torkelson wasn’t feeling right.

“I felt like I was just coming off the ball, missing get-me-over sliders,” Torkelson said.

The first baseman worked with Michael Brdar, one of the Detroit Tigers new hitting coaches.

“We went into the cage and he put the pitching machine way back like at 64 feet,” Torkelson said. “He did like this eephus pitch.”

The machine stared spitting out high-arching off-speed pitches that forced Torkelson to emphasize a different part of his swing.

“It made you get down and keep your direction,” Torkelson said.

It was like parts of the puzzle started to fit together again.

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“That’s the feel I was looking for,” Torkelson said.

It worked and put Torkelson back into rhythm, which was another win for the Tigers’ new hitting department.

During the offseason, the Tigers added three hitting coaches and they are getting rave reviews from players.

“First off, they’re really smart,” Torkelson said. “They know what they’re doing.”

And the Tigers are getting results.

Yes, it’s still early.

Yes, it’s a small sample size.

And nobody is going overboard here, making grand predictions or even coming to any conclusions about this offense.

But so far, so good.

The Tigers had 18 homers after 10 games — the most in the MLB.

“We’ve shown a lot of power this spring,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

Then, in their 11th game of the spring, they added to it.

Riley Greene hit a homer on Monday against Boston — his second of the spring.

“We talked about him getting the ball in the air a little bit but then when he hits the ball line-to-line, that’s when he’s at his best,” Hinch said. “Obviously, the balls to center field have been rocketed. So he’s picking good pitches to hit, which is always a precursor for good things to happen.”

More than anything, these homers are an indication these players are:

  1. Hearing the message from this coaching staff;
  2. Understanding it;
  3. And producing.

“We’re starting to have a little bit of an identity,” Hinch said. “We talk about controlling the strike zone, that gets us into good counts. We get into good counts and then we can do a little bit of damage. So I think our guys are feeding off of one another. We’re not chasing results, but we’re hitting because I think our plan is pretty good.”

Yes, even in his description, he’s hammering home the same point.

While there have been several positive developments in this camp — like several players returning from injuries and the club, as a whole, avoiding more injuries — the Tigers’ sudden power surge might be at the top of the list.

Certainly, it’s the most surprising.

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Adding new voices

There is a tremendous, overall vibe to this team — all these young players have mixed with the veterans in the best way possible.

But it extends to the coaching staff.

“We’ve added a ton of new voices and that’s been a seamless transition,” Hinch said. “Everybody’s jumped fully on board with the new staff and some new voices.”

Each one of the hitting coaches seems to have a different way of teaching. A different way of speaking. A different strength. All by Hinch’s design.

“I’d say Michael (Brdar) is really simple,” Torkelson said. “For me, he kind of specializes in what drill can we do to get the right feel?”

Keith Beauregard, who spent the last four years in the Dodgers’ farm system, has a different approach as one of the Tigers coaches.

“Keith is really good with the way your body moves, understanding that some guys can’t get into a position that other guys can,” Torkelson said.

The third member of the hitting department is James Rowson, who was a hitting coach, at various levels, for the Twins, Cubs and Yankees.

“I haven’t worked a lot with J-Row but he’s just great energy guy,” Torkelson said. “Great vibes. Just always about staying positive because this game can beat you up if you let it. They’re all awesome. I think it’s a really good fit for all of us.”

Different ways of learning

The variety of voices is turning into a strength.

“I think what defines a good hitting coach is someone who speaks a million languages so they can relate to Greenie,” Torkelson said. “They can relate to Miggy, or myself. They know what language we speak but every hitter is different.”

By having three different hitting instructors, the Tigers are getting three different voices.

Three different chances to reach a player.

“The guys are easy to talk to,” Jake Rogers said. “It’s just been really good.”

Rogers has been working on hitting high four-seam fastballs.

“I get under balls a lot,” Rogers said.

But there he was on Sunday, jacking a high fastball for his third homer of the spring.

“Feeling really comfortable right now,” Rogers said.

Maybe that’s the big thing.

This new hitting department is reaching these players in a different way.

Making them feel comfortable.

Getting them to understand the plan.

Following Hinch’s big picture view,

Giving them tweaks and confidence at the same time.

And the result is obvious.

Balls are jumping out of the park.

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Contact Jeff Seidel at jseidel@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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