Offseason work paying early dividends for Tigers’ Boyd and Torkelson

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — As you might expect in a 16-3 spring romp, there was a lot to be encouraged about Tuesday in the Tigers’ Grapefruit League win over a WBC-depleted St. Louis Cardinals team.

Let’s start with first baseman Spencer Torkelson. He has been hitting balls off the barrel most of the spring, and lately, he’s starting to enjoy some positive results. Like the single he scorched off a first-pitch, 100-mph heater from the Twins’ Jhoan Duran on Sunday.

And then in the fifth inning Tuesday, he laced a double into the right-center gap off an off-speed pitch that left his bat with an exit velocity of 105 mph.

“I’ve felt good all spring,” he said.

He’s earned the right to feel good. His off-season workload was intense. It started in his garage, where he built a fully functional weight room, complete with a Tonal home gym system (the one LeBron James touts in the commercials), full-squat rack, dumbbells, you name it.

“Pretty much everything you need to get a good lift,” he said. “I really like it because no one is in there motivating you. You have to be intrinsically motivated, which I really like.”

Torkelson’s weekdays during the offseason went like this: Be on the field or in the facility at Arizona State University — a 30-minute drive from his house — by 7:30 a.m. and do baseball work (hitting in the cage or on the field, fielding grounders) until noon. Then go home, eat lunch, maybe nap and then hit the weight room.

He also hired, out of his own pocket, a mental-performance coach whom he had used when he was at ASU. Torkelson didn’t want to give out his name.

“I really loved what he preaches and how he preaches it,” Torkelson said. “He is really relatable. He’s worked a lot with Delta Force (an Army special-forces operations group) and other pro athletes. The way I look at it, if he can work with guys that high up in the military, he can help me out.”

And he has. Not only is Torkelson’s body noticeably stronger, but his mind and his demeanor seem quieter, more self-assured. One of the messages from his mental-performance coach that resonated was how to take positives from the negatives. Don’t get defeated by a bad day. Learn from it and use it to be better the next day.

“It’s just little tricks on what you can do to make sure your process is as consistent as possible,” he said. “You get a process that works for you and you do it every single day and every single at-bat. And you trust it.”

You trust it relentlessly, unconditionally.

“Just because you have a good process and you are comfortable at the plate, that doesn’t guarantee that you will go 4-for-4,” Torkelson said. “You’re going to go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts some days when you are feeling like that. But, trust it the next day, trust it tomorrow. What can I tweak and take into tomorrow to make me a better player today than I was yesterday?”

This isn’t 2020 or even last spring. Even though he struggled in the first three-plus months last season, the Tigers aren’t treating Torkelson like a question mark. They didn’t bring in another first baseman to compete with him this spring. He’s one of only a few players you can write into the everyday lineup right now and use a pen.

“The microscope is not on Spencer Torkelson,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s a good player and he’s been putting good passes on the ball … I think this year he’s doing a pretty good job of not getting too frustrated with the results not being there. He’s swinging at the right pitches and barreling up a few balls.

“He’s been a little unlucky at times, but he’s keeping it in perspective, that we’re talking 10 or 15 at-bats.”

Boyd Fantastico

Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd put on a pitching clinic in his three innings Tuesday. He struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced and he emptied the clip, in terms of his pitch mix.

“The plan was to go use it all and attack,” Boyd said.

Done. He got punch-outs with three different pitches. He threw 17 four-seam fastballs, hitting 95 mph and sitting at 93 mph. He threw 10 changeups and 10 sliders, too, a pair of 78-80-mph pitches that break in different directions and are thrown out of the same arm slot.

With each of those pitches, he got three swings-and-misses on seven swings. You can’t even script it like that.

Then for good measure, he threw five curveballs, stealing three first-pitch, called strikes with it.

“If you look at my years, nobody really swings at a first-pitch curveball from me,” Boyd said. “It’s a free strike. If I can throw that and land a strike, it saves everything else. It’s a big pitch to set up an at-bat.”

His slider has always been his money pitch, and his changeup has always been hit-or-miss. While rehabbing from flexor tendon surgery with the Giants, he learned how to throw a seam-shifted changeup.

Instead of getting movement by pronating his wrist, he throws the changeup like he throws his slider, but he grips the smooth side of the baseball to let the seams play off the air current to create movement (seam-shifted wave, it’s called).

“He was excellent,” Hinch said. “He used every one of his pitches and used them effectively … It’s good to see him being free and being himself. And his stuff is holding for a few innings. We’ll continue to build his endurance. I think that’s the important next test.

“But, his stuff was as good as it’s been.”

The only blemish was a slider he hung to left-handed hitting Nolan Gorman. That one landed in the Tigers’ bullpen in right-center.

Game bits

The Tigers banged out 19 hits, three by Nick Maton, who started the Tigers’ hitting spree in the first inning, blistering a 98-mph fastball from Cardinals starter Gordon Graceffo. He scored on yet another opposite-field extra-base hit by Riley Greene. Greene is hitting .389 and slugging over .700 this spring, and his last six hits have been to center or left field.

… The Tigers’ No. 9 prospect, infielder Isaac Pacheco, had a pair of hits Tuesday. He’s had three at-bats and drilled three hits coming over as a reserve from the minor league camp. “I love him,” Hinch said. “I’ve known him since he was pretty famous as an amateur in the Houston area. He’s fearless. He thinks he belongs. He probably thinks he should be in this camp. He’s putting up at-bats over here that are pretty fun to see.”

… The Cardinals’ lineup was thinned considerably with 18 players preparing for the World Baseball Classic.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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