DETROIT — For the second time in 15 months, the Tigers have lost promising young outfielder Riley Greene to a freak injury. This time, they lose him just as he was emerging as the key cog in the Tigers’ resurgence in the American League Central.
What looked initially like a minor injury on Tuesday night turned out to be a worst-case scenario when tests showed a stress fracture in Greene’s left fibula. He’ll get additional opinions from doctors, but the Tigers are planning on him being out for the foreseeable future.
“Obviously we want to get a full diagnosis with multiple people and figure out what [the diagnosis] means,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously there’s going to be a rest … and it’s going to be at least 10 days, so we put him on the injured list. But for me to speculate what that means is literally guessing, so I have no idea.”
Though Greene left Tuesday’s game against the Rangers in the third inning, seemingly wincing after running down a Corey Seager line drive, the injury is believed to date back before that. The nature of a stress fracture means it might not be tied to one particular play, including Greene’s collision with Comerica Park’s center-field wall on Sunday, when he took a home run away from White Sox slugger Jake Burger.
X-rays taken on Tuesday night came back negative, according to Hinch. But an ensuing MRI exam revealed the fracture, below his left knee and above his ankle.
“We’ll continue to figure out what it could have possibly been,” Hinch said. “I think it’s all kind of guessing at this point. I mean, these guys are diving, they’re jumping and making plays and fouling balls off. Who knows, it could be anything. I don’t know enough about stress fractures to know what could create them, but I know he was pretty frustrated when I saw him this morning.”
The frustration is understandable. Greene’s Major League debut was delayed until June last year due to a fractured right foot, an injury he suffered fouling off a ball in the final days of Spring Training. The Tigers hadn’t made final roster decisions at that point, but Greene had put himself in a strong position to make the Opening Day roster. Instead, he had to stay back at the Tigers’ Spring Training facility to rehab while the team headed north and struggled out of the gate.
The Tigers have changed their rehab processes to provide more resources for players to rehab in Detroit and remain close to the team, and they’re expected to keep Greene around as they have with injured pitchers Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize.
“It totally sucks, but I know him,” said Spencer Torkelson, who came up through the Tigers’ farm system with Greene and is one of his best friends. “I know he’ll come back even better. He’s out there busting it every day. It’s part of the game, but he’ll be back stronger.”
Still, it’s an interruption to a career on the rise. Greene leads Tigers position players (minimum 50 at-bats) with a 1.7 fWAR as well as a .296 batting average, 90 total bases and 29 runs scored. He was the centerpiece of a vastly improved Tigers outfield defense that ranks best in the Major Leagues at turning fly balls into outs, according to Sports Info Solutions.
While the Tigers have mixed and matched in the outfield corners, Greene has been the constant in center. With him out, they’ll likely go with a mix of options in center as well, between the recently-acquired Jake Marisnick, Akil Baddoo and versatile infielders Zach McKinstry and Zack Short.