St. Petersburg, Fla. – On a day when the Tigers were battered by the Rays at Tropicana Field, 9-5, and when a string of pitchers looked as if they had filed for divorce with the strike zone, it was time to trust technology for consolation.
As in, exit velocities.
Spencer Torkelson ripped a 100-mph, RBI double to left in the first that furthered thoughts he is on his way to middle-of-the-order mayhem in 2023. The Tigers’ first baseman followed in the sixth with another bullet, a single, this one clocking in at 102.3 mph.
Austin Meadows also hit triple-digits Monday. His two-run double in the fifth was a 100-mph shot, which offered a bit more muscle to thoughts that an outfielder who missed nearly all of 2022 is cozying up to a comeback.
Torkelson and Meadows were among topics, very few, Tigers manager AJ Hinch found stimulating following Monday’s split-squad doings at The Trop. The other Tigers unit, playing against the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium Sarasota, lost 11-7.
As for Torkelson, a spring in which he’s been starring in another technological category – barreled-up balls – continued with his on-the-nose swings Monday.
“In most cases, it’s the pitches he’s picking to swing at,” Hinch said afterward. “He’s been aggressive with pitches he hasn’t missed.
“He’s hit balls really hard, he’s been up among league-leaders with barrels (squarely hit pitches), and he’s getting rewarded more now than he was earlier in camp.
“His presence in the box is very good. The pitches he’s swinging at, he’s hitting hard. I don’t care if it’s the first pitch or the last pitch.”
Torkelson’s right-handed bat was, of course, always viewed as a potential dynamite stick after the Tigers made him MLB’s first overall pick in 2020. Same, of sorts, with Meadows, who last April was imported from the Rays in an opening-week trade that rapidly was sabotaged by a stream of injuries and emotional issues.
Meadows batted leadoff Monday, at designated hitter. He was of the opinion afterward that his bat is feeling better, all thanks to more “reps” that were the only remedy to attack what was essentially a lost season.
Hinch essentially agreed.
“His timing isn’t quite right, but when he zones in and gets his timing, you can see results coming his way,” the Tigers’ skipper said. “We know he’s a little lower, launch-wise, right now, but when he starts picking right pitches to swing at, he’ll be Austin Meadows again.”
Meaning, the Tigers might indeed have added a left-handed hitter who bashed 33 home runs for the Rays in 2019, and followed with 27 in 2021.
Meadows is aboard there. He knows 2023 is about re-acclimating to everyday baseball. To a constant gauntlet of tough pitchers.
But with every at-bat, hitting feels more like it once did.
“I kind of had to take a step back and realize I’m in a little bit different situation than most guys,” Meadows said. “I’ve got to grind it out. It’s definitely a progression, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Lynn Henning is a retired Detroit News reporter and freelancer writer.