Big 3 hot in Detroit? Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Kerry Carpenter on fire for Tigers

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Spencer Torkelson might have jinxed Riley Greene with just two words.

“Cycle watch,” Torkelson said he told his teammate during Wednesday’s 8-7 win over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

Greene, a double away from hitting for the cycle for the first time since high school, stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, following a home run in the third, a single in the fifth and a triple in the seventh against the American League Central leaders.

“I didn’t know at first,” Greene said, “and then somebody said something to me.”

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With a runner on third base, Greene sent a fifth-pitch curveball 382 feet to center field, with a 101.8 mph exit velocity. Unfortunately for Greene, it was lofted enough for center fielder Joey Gallo to track it down to his right. A run scored on the sacrifice fly, but Greene’s cycle hopes would have to wait for another day.

It was about all that went wrong for Greene and teammates Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter on Wednesday.

The hype surrounding the trio of Carpenter, Greene and Torkelson — three 25-and-under position players in the middle of the Detroit Tigers‘ batting order — has picked up steam recently, enough to consider a Big 3 is brewing in the Motor City.

Greene is batting .309 with 11 home runs in 84 games this season; Torkelson, who has six homers in his past seven games — including two Wednesday — is batting .230 with 21 home runs in 118 games; and Carpenter is batting .286 with 16 home runs — including one Wednesday — in 77 games.

All three players made their MLB debuts in the 2022 season, and despite some bumps along the way, the future of the Tigers offense looks brighter than ever before heading into the final 42 games of the 2023 season.

“We definitely are feeling good about that,” Torkelson said of the future. “We also know that it’s a long way to go. It’s not like we’ve made it already. We’re still taking it one day at a time. It’s nice to get some results, but we’re nowhere near where we think we’re going to be.”

Torkelson, Greene and Carpenter put on a spectacular show in Wednesday’s come-from-behind victory, combining to drive in seven of the eight runs, smack four home runs and collect hits in seven of 13 at-bats.

It felt like the official coming-out party for the Big 3.

“It’s exciting,” said Carpenter, a 19th-round pick in 2019. “Tork and Riley are two of the really good young players. What is Riley, like 22 or something? He’s hitting .300 in the best league in the world. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of it with them, and it’s fun for us three to be in the middle together.”

FROM MAY: Riley Greene is carrying the Tigers and finally unlocking pull-side power

Even Greene’s lack of a cycle was a positive event. Rather than trying for a double, Greene took an unselfish approach to the plate and provided a crucial insurance run.

An on-the-run Gallo caught the ball at the warning track in center field. If the ball had dropped, Greene might have had his choice of a double for the cycle or the first two-triple game of his career.

“It depends on where it would have landed,” Greene said. “I think, if that ball kept going, it would have bounced over the fence, so it just depends on where it was. The skipper always says to play the game, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

A few days ago in Boston, Torkelson — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft — had a single in the second inning, a single in the fourth, a home run in the sixth and a double in the eighth.

Apparently, Greene — the No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 draft — mentioned something to Torkelson, who was a triple shy of the cycle, after his 25th double of the season.

“He did that to me, too,” Torkelson said.

Torkelson, though, didn’t get a fifth plate appearance in Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

After hearing the allegation, Greene smiled while defending himself — “I don’t think I said anything” — and playfully shouted towards Torkelson’s locker in the visitor’s clubhouse at Target Field.

“I have feel,” Greene said, staring down his best friend on the team. “I have feel about that kind of stuff.”

FROM JUNE: We might be seeing the beginning of Spencer Torkelson’s breakthrough for Tigers

All jokes aside, Greene (22 until late September), Torkelson (23 until next week) and Carpenter (25 until early September) are playing the best baseball of their MLB careers. The combination of approach changes, swing changes and experience has guided them to what is shaping up to be a breakthrough finish to 2023.

In Wednesday’s game, Torkelson blasted a pair of no-doubt solo homers. He hit a first-pitch curveball for a 432-foot homer in the third inning off right-handed starter Kenta Maeda, then a third-pitch sweeper for a 405-foot homer in the seventh inning off right-handed reliever Griffin Jax.

Torkelson missed out on the first three-homer game of his career with a 363-foot flyout to left field in the ninth inning. It would have been a home run in four of 30 MLB parks: Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park and San Diego’s Petco Park.

He has 42 games to hit nine more home runs and achieve a rare milestone for a Tiger: 30 homers. No Tiger has reached 30 since Miguel Cabrera in 2016, and no Tiger has hit 30 in his age-23 season (or younger) since Matt Nokes’ 32 homers at age 23 in 1987.

“We’re better players than we were last year at this time,” Torkelson said. “And then, we’re understanding the league and how guys are pitching us. We’re understanding the approach that we have against guys. In the scouting report, we look at what the guy throws and how they’re going to attack us.

“The last question is, how are we going to do damage off him? We’re not going to look for his best pitch to get a single on it. We’re going to look at where his best pitch makes a mistake that we can do damage on. We’re getting better information, and we’re using that.”

Better information?

Remember, the Tigers revamped the hitting department in the offseason when manager A.J. Hinch fired hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and hired a trio of hitting coaches to replace him: Michael Brdar, Keith Beauregard and James Rowson.

“We have the same access to all the information, but it’s how we interpret it,” Torkelson said. “What I look at in the scouting report is different than what Carp and Greeney look at. It’s a more individualized approach rather than a bunch of information on a sheet (of paper). I can look at all this stuff and not know what works for me, but I know what I like to take from it.”

FROM AUGUST: One year after MLB debut, Kerry Carpenter looks like big part of Tigers’ future

Since June 4, Torkelson is hitting .226 (55-for-243) with 17 home runs and a .796 OPS over 63 games; in his past seven games, he is hitting .346 (9-for-26) with six home runs.

Greene, who hit .365 across 25 games in May before suffering a stress reaction in his left fibula, is hitting .331 (40-for-121) with six home runs and a .949 OPS in 32 games since his July 8 return from the injured list.

Like Greene, Carpenter spent time on the injured list earlier this season. He returned from a right shoulder sprain June 9, and in 57 games since then, he is hitting .311 (59-for-190) with 12 home runs and a .914 OPS.

“It’s not necessarily keeping it in the box that you see on TV,” Carpenter said, echoing Torkelson’s explanation of the scouting reports. “There are some pitches out of the zone that I can handle, specifically lower pitches. I’m OK with chasing down there, but I really don’t want to chase high or inside. It’s just knowing what I handle well.”

Each player has a large sample size of elite success.

That’s an encouraging sign for the future.

“We come out here and play our hearts out,” Greene said. “This is what we love to do. Whenever we’re on the field, we’re going to play as hard as we possibly can. … We’re a team, and we’re going to play hard every single day.”

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

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