Greene proving power of No. 5 picks: ‘You just can’t get him out’

Detroit Tigers

Really, the Tigers’ center fielder has been there for most of the month. He’s getting into a mode where he’s seeing whatever opposing pitchers throw and slashing balls around the park. It’s a mode Spencer Torkelson has seen from his good friend before.

“It’s special,” said Torkelson, who hit a pair of doubles in Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the Pirates at Comerica Park. “It’s almost like you should just throw it down the middle and hope that he hits it really hard at somebody, because it seems like you just can’t get him out.”

Pittsburgh finally did, but it took a highlight effort to do so. Greene had hard hits on three pitch types from Pirates starter Luis L. Ortiz, and he came within a diving catch of his first career four-hit game. The line drive that right fielder Josh Palacios stretched to grab in the bottom of the sixth left Greene’s bat at 106.5 mph and had a 61 percent hit probability, according to Statcast. Eric Haase was so sure it was going to fall that he took off from second and was doubled off.

The extra run wasn’t missed on a night when Tigers starter Michael Lorenzen continued his run of stingy pitching with seven strikeouts in six scoreless innings. But it demonstrates what Greene is putting together right now.

Even without a fourth hit, the 22-year-old’s 3-for-4 performance was his fifth three-hit game of the season, tied for most in the American League. After batting .234 in March and April, Greene is hitting .412 (21-for-51) in May, with six doubles, one home run, eight RBIs and a 1.032 OPS. His average this month leads all qualified Major League hitters.

Seven of Greene’s 11 hardest-hit balls have come since May 8.

“Confidence is everything in the box,” Greene said, “and I just try to keep it going.”

This is the type of impact the Tigers were hoping for when they selected Greene fifth overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. No, they didn’t have to endure a Draft lottery like the Pistons on Tuesday, but they had to wait out four teams ahead of them.

Obviously, it’s too early to make judgments. But among the top five picks, only Orioles catcher and top overall selection Adley Rutschman entered Tuesday with a higher bWAR (6.6) than Greene, whose 2.3 bWAR is above that of Royals shortstop and second overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. (1.6). The only other first-rounders with higher bWAR are the Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah, the Mariners’ George Kirby and the Reds’ Nick Lodolo.

“He’s a young player that continues to get better,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I know he’s a guy that they really like. They’ve got a good player there.”

Along with 2020 top overall pick Torkelson, Greene is becoming the key point of the Tigers’ offense. The key for manager A.J. Hinch is making sure the two young players don’t feel they have to carry it.

“They’re continuing to work and continuing to evolve and grow,” Hinch said last week. “They’re not naive to the fact that they are a really big part of our present and our future, and it’s a lot to bestow on them. We’ve been patient with both guys, and our belief is never going to waver. Our trust in their work is never going to waver. The results are starting to show up a little bit.

“But they shouldn’t have to carry the whole burden of the offense for us. They’re going to be a big part of it. But their calmness around each other and around their responsibility is very noteworthy.”

Greene’s sixth double of the month was a 108.4 mph drive to the right-field wall off a hanging slider after Ortiz started him with three 96 mph fastballs. He scored on a Javier Báez single.

An inning later, Ortiz tried to stay low and change speeds against Greene, who reached below the zone for a 95 mph sinker and sent a ground ball through the middle.

By the fourth inning, Ortiz was low on ideas. Greene fouled off a first-pitch fastball, then adjusted to an 89.6 mph changeup and sent a single to the opposite field, knocking Ortiz out of the game.

“Just sticking to my approach, really,” Greene said. “Saw some balls pop and did what I did.”

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