DETROIT — The first ball Jake Marisnick saw as a Tiger was a 417-foot drive from Rangers leadoff hitter Marcus Semien on Wednesday afternoon. Marisnick chased it to the depths of left-center field, bouncing lightly off the fence after making the catch.
“Wasn’t too bad, had a little give to it,” Marisnick said with a smile.
It was a fitting welcome to Comerica Park for the well-traveled center fielder, who was in the clubhouse in Charlotte — the Triple-A affiliate of the White Sox — on Tuesday afternoon when he was told he had been traded to the Tigers, and he had a flight to Detroit in two hours. It was also a fitting welcome for the Tigers to coping without Riley Greene.
The Tigers have been here before; they thought Greene would join them out of Spring Training last year before a broken right foot delayed his debut until June. But losing him in midseason is different. Detroit was gaining momentum, pushing for .500 and chasing the Twins in the AL Central, until Greene left the game on Tuesday night with what turned out to be a stress fracture in his left fibula.
Add in Eduardo Rodriguez, out with a ruptured A4 pulley in his left index finger, and the Tigers lost their top two players by Wins Above Replacement less than 24 hours apart. Now the Tigers have to find a way to win with their replacements. Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers was a start, and it meant more than just avoiding a three-game series sweep.
“I think we have to admit that it’s really frustrating,” manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday morning. “At the same time, we have to collect ourselves and go out and find a different way. … Things are going to get better and feel better, but we’ve got to find a different way to do it now with different guys, and quite honestly find different guys to pick up slack a little bit.”
That attitude seemed to resonate in the Tigers’ clubhouse, even among those players closest to Greene.
“We’ve just got to find a way at this point,” Spencer Torkelson said. “We can either dwell on what we don’t have or we can focus on what we do have and try to win with what we’ve got. I think we’re going to take that option.”
Three factors Wednesday boded well in that regard:
1: Wentz hangs in
No, Joey Wentz isn’t replacing Rodriguez; that rotation spot will go to prospect Reese Olson, who will make his debut on Friday. But while Hinch emphasized that the club will only miss Rodriguez once every five games, it becomes a group effort for the rotation to pick up innings and avoid further taxing a bullpen that usually had light work days when Rodriguez started.
With Detroit’s rotation depth pretty much gone until Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning return, Wentz — who hadn’t recorded a fifth-inning out since May 8 — tossed 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball. He overcame a shaky first inning, including four balls hit at 101 mph or harder, to rack up five strikeouts in a six-batter stretch in the second and third. He stranded the bases loaded in the fourth by retiring the red-hot Marcus Semien.
“I think getting out of the first was really important for me,” Wentz said.
2: Marisnick steps in
Marisnick has played center at Comerica Park in previous stops. That experience came in handy on a day when the Rangers laced line drives and deep flies. Marisnick contributed two singles from the bottom of the lineup, including a sixth-inning RBI for the eventual deciding run.
“Once the game starts, I think he was going to be fine, but it is a nice way to introduce yourself to a lot of guys he doesn’t know,” Hinch said.
3: Hitters step up
The Tigers had almost a line-shift approach to their roster, replacing left-handed hitters with righties and vice versa as games went on. Greene was a constant, and replacing him with Marisnick changes the balance. Some hitters will need to produce in disadvantaged matchups to make it work.
On Wednesday, they got enough. Tyler Nevin chased Dane Dunning in a righty-righty matchup with an opposite-field single, which combined with a bunt single by Zack Short helped fuel a two-run sixth inning. Zach McKinstry played the entire game in right field and went 1-for-5 with a key assist, throwing out Corey Seager trying to stretch a double.
“A big strength in this organization is depth,” Nevin said, “and I think we showed it today. Some guys came through in big spots. It was a great win.”