All is right: Torkelson flashes full potential on 2-homer night

Detroit Tigers

The scouting report on the Tigers slugger out of college and through the Minor Leagues raved about his power to all fields and against all pitches. Yet until his two-homer performance in Wednesday night’s 9-5 win over the Twins at Comerica Park, his only home run to right field was his third MLB homer — a three-run shot to right field in Detroit against the Rockies on April 22, 2022, the same game in which Miguel Cabrera joined the 3,000-hit club.

“Sometimes you look at how deep it is out there, and it can get difficult on the mind,” Torkelson said. “Can I trust it? But you just have to tell yourself that I do have that type of power and I can use the whole field.”

On Wednesday, the same night Cabrera passed Robin Yount to move into 19th place on MLB’s all-time hits leaderboard with a three-hit game, Torkelson found right field again — then went back to the pull side for a tape-measure drive to left-center. It was his third two-homer game of the season, but the first in which he went to two sides of the field with two types of pitches.

That’s the Torkelson that manager A.J. Hinch had been told to watch out for.

“When I first heard about Spencer Torkelson, the first thing I was told was the oppo power and how he was going to direct the ball a lot toward right-center field,” Hinch said. “I think when he got to the big leagues, he didn’t get rewarded for that at all in the ballpark, and just overall. They were pounding him in and he started getting pull-conscious. And now, he can do both.”

The splits bear that out. Despite that homer last year, Torkelson went just 6-for-51 (.118) on balls hit to right field. He entered Wednesday marginally better to the opposite field this season at 11-for-50 (.220), but he had just two extra-base hits — both doubles. 

Bailey Ober’s changeup on the outer half of the plate gave Torkelson an opportunity to change that.

“It felt great. I think it just happened naturally,” Torkelson said. “I felt myself kind of coming off the ball, so I really wanted to emphasize staying on the fastball to the big part of the field. I saw that offspeed pitch up and wanted to stay on it.”

It was Torkelson’s third home run off an offspeed pitch this season.

“I got ahead with the curveball, and then I wanted to go down and in with the changeup, and I threw it up and away,” Ober said. “He put a good swing on it and just carried it out to right field. Yeah, just one of those days. I mean, it was a bad pitch, but at least I feel like he earned that home run.”

Torkelson’s second homer two innings later was definitely earned, all the way down to the majestic follow-through. Righty reliever Jordan Balazovic fell behind struggling to locate curveballs, challenged Torkelson with a fastball over the plate that he fouled off, then went back to the curveball and hung it. Torkelson sent it a Statcast-projected 415 feet toward the flagpole in left-center.

It was a timely boost for Torkelson, who had struck out in his first two at-bats against Ober and was 3-for-27 in August before the homers — not that he was obsessing over it.

“Felt good,” Torkelson said, “but I never got down. I was just sticking with it and trusting it, knowing it would come.”

What this game, and the opposite-field power, means for Torkelson from here depends, in part, on how he gets pitched. He was batting under .200 against non-fastballs this year entering the game, but it was better than last year — and with higher exit velocities. Still, Torkelson had only one hit off an offspeed pitch since the start of July. He was also hitless off breaking balls for August until his second homer.

Torkelson’s damage, not surprisingly, has largely come off fastballs. But like a lot of his game, he’s adjusting.

“It changes in a heartbeat; one good night can all of a sudden get you back on track,” Hinch said. “His first couple at-bats weren’t great, and he’s got the mentality to flush that between at-bats and get to the next one. …

“That’s why you hang with guys mentally, because if they hang with themselves mentally, they can come out of it very quickly.”

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