How Detroit Tigers’ Matt Vierling is figuring things out at plate (Hint: consistent ABs)

Detroit Free Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Matt Vierling feels relaxed at the plate.

Every hitter goes through ups and downs. Staying consistent, or as consistent as possible, separates average players, good players and great players. This season with the Detroit Tigers, Vierling feels like he has bounced back from the downs quicker than the first two seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s an encouraging sign as his development continues.

“And then you have confidence, too,” Vierling said. “You have confidence that you’re going to get out of it because you’ve done it before. It gives you a reason every day to keep grinding. You have to take a step back and be like, ‘It’s going to get better. You’re going to get through it. I’ve done it before.’ That really helps.”

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The 26-year-old, acquired by the Tigers in a five-player trade with the Phillies in the offseason, is hitting .253 with four home runs, nine walks and 33 strikeouts through 41 games. He plays above-average defense in right field and his 5.7% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate are consistent with his career norms.

But his overall production on offense, despite the inconsistencies, has improved slightly. He owns a 91 wRC+ this season, which ranks 125th among 167 qualified players, compared to an 81 wRC+ last season.

Last May, Vierling was struggling so badly that the Phillies demoted him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Tigers plan to help him work through his slumps without a demotion in 2023.

“He really just needs to continue to play,” said manager A.J. Hinch, referencing Vierling’s experience in the big leagues. “When he wants to be aggressive, he’s got to make sure they’re good pitches. When he’s super patient, he’s got to understand that there are going to be hittable pitches early in the count. When he’s more aggressive, I like the better version because he’s ready to hit from pitch one.”

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The truth is, Vierling has received 591 plate appearances in 192 games across parts of three seasons. He is a few years older than young players like Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, but the number of plate appearances and games between the three players looks nearly identical.

Torkelson, 23, has 594 plate appearances in 155 games across parts of two seasons, while Greene, 22, has 612 plate appearances in 138 games across parts of two seasons. They’re still developing at the highest level.

Vierling, who played in the 2022 World Series, is also trying to develop consistency, just like Torkelson and Greene. It comes down to his pregame and postgame routines, game plans against individual pitchers, pitch selection during plate appearances, timing in his swing mechanics and ability to make in-game adjustments. It’s not something that happens overnight.

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” Vierling said. “I would imagine it’s staying with my routine. I feel like I’m in a really good routine. I really like my approach right now, too. I’m trying to stay with that as much as possible, even when times get tough, which I’m sure they will be at some point. I’m trying to learn that, but I feel good right now.”

The Tigers, meanwhile, traded for Vierling and need to find out if he can be a consistent, everyday player in the future.

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The most recent bounce back in his performance started May 17, when Vierling went 1-for-3 with one walk against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park. He responded from a miserable seven-game stretch — hitting .036 (1-for-28) with zero walks and six strikeouts — through quality plate appearances.

Since then, Vierling is hitting .435 (10-for-23) with two home runs, two walks and two strikeouts in six games. Vierling, a right-handed hitter, crushed his homers to right-center field Friday against the Washington Nationals and to left field Monday against the Kansas City Royals.

“That’s why it’s so hard,” Vierling said. “It’s a game of adjustments. You can stay consistent with your routines, but in games, you never know what’s going to happen. If someone attacks you differently, you have to make an adjustment. It’s a lot, and that’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

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His line-drive rate remains below average, and he rarely swings at the first pitch, but he hits the ball hard, limits swings and misses and could tap into more power as he continues to develop.

There’s a lot to like about Vierling’s response to adversity, too.

“The more and more I’m up here in the big leagues and having some success, the more I’m learning what I can do,” Vierling said. “I’m also realizing when I go through those little down periods, I usually come out of those fairly well. It doesn’t last for super long periods of time.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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