Teams challenging Tigers’ Parker Meadows to prove he can handle high-velocity heat

Detroit News

New York — There are still moments, even a couple of weeks into his big-league career, when Parker Meadows is tempted to pinch himself.

Playing center field at Yankee Stadium certainly felt like a dream.

“Just showing up here in New York City, at Yankee Stadium, it’s been surreal,” he said. “I was here to watch my big brother (Austin) play three or four years ago when he was with Tampa. I was in the minor leagues then, but it still never crossed my mind that I’d be playing in Yankee Stadium.

“Everything still seems a little surreal.”

What might also feel surreal to Meadows, just 15 games into his big-league career, is the way teams are already putting together their book on him and adjusting their pitch plans. Especially after he burst on the scene going 6 for 17 with a walk-off three-run homer.

“I feel like I’m seeing a lot of fastballs and I’m missing them early in the count,” he said. “That’s something that comes with timing. Just part of the game. I have to continue to stay on the fastball and adjust to off-speed. No matter what, stay on the fastball.”

So far, in the short sample, the four-seam fastball elevated is beating him. He’s hitting .158 against it with six of his 17 punch-outs coming off heaters.

“It’s just life in the big leagues for him,” manager AJ Hinch said. “I think it would have been impossible to carry on what he did for the first five to 10 days. Teams are starting to make him be aware of a lot of different things. The fastball with high-end velocity or spin late or the surprise fastball.

“It’s like a sparring match between a pitcher and a new hitter. You are feeling each other out. Parker is starting to see how he’s going to have to cover a lot of different plans.”

Don’t misunderstand, It’s not like he’s scuffling. He took a .265/.368/.408 slash-line into the game Wednesday with a .777 OPS. He hadn’t gone more than two games without a hit.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Meadows said. “Just trying to take advantage of the fastball and don’t miss it. Especially when you get up here. When you miss the heater, you have to pay the price. I’m just going to stay on the fastball and try to get better every day.”

Meadows is going to get his first day off Thursday when the Tigers face Yankees lefty Carlos Rodon.

“He can impact a game when he’s not being the super hero he was with the bat in the first handful of games,” Hinch said. “He can do that with his defense and with his base running.”

One thing Meadows doesn’t need to adjust to at the big-league level is his Sudoku game. He and Miguel Cabrera were going at it before the game. Meadows calmly placed an autographed copy of his game sheet on Cabrera’s locker chair.

“I beat him,” he said, smiling.

No more governor

Lefty Tarik Skubal is scheduled to make his 12th start of the season Saturday against the White Sox. If things stay on track, he will get four more before the end of the season and most likely won’t get to 100 innings.

The question posed to Skubal before the game Wednesday after threw his between-starts bullpen, might he have to pitch somewhere this winter to put him in position to be unrestricted, innings-wise, in 2024?

“I’m not opposed to it,” he said. “I want to set a foundation for next year. I don’t want to have to go through the same thing I’ve gone through this year.”

Meaning, having a governor on him. Coming off flexor tendon surgery, the Tigers capped him at four innings for his first three starts and then capped him at five for the next two. He went seven innings for the first time Sunday against the White Sox in Chicago.

“I’m back right now, they’re letting me work how I want to work,” Skubal said. “My first five were restricted. I don’t want that to happen again next year. That’s a discussion I need to have with AJ and Scott Harris and (Chris) Fetter.

“Just see where I’m at physically when the season ends and what they expect and what they want.”

Skubal has yet to pitch an unrestricted season. He made 31 appearances in 2021, with 29 starts, but his last five starts were capped at four innings. He was at 21 starts and 117.2 innings last season when the injury popped up.

The perfect scenario would be if Skubal, because of the surgery, would be allowed to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Veteran pitchers, like James Paxton, have been given that opportunity in the past coming off injury-shortened years.

The other option would be to pitch winter ball in either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

Another potential obstacle to pitching winter ball, though, is that Skubal and his wife Jessica are expecting their first child in October.

“That obviously changes things for me in terms of where I want to be,” he said. “My career is very important to me, but that (birth of a child) trumps it. I’ve talked to everybody about it and they told me that we will worry about it when we get there.

“We’re not going to worry about it now.”

Fair enough.

Iron man

A couple of days ago, Hinch talked about being committed to getting first baseman Spencer Torkelson some days off this month. He’s played in 137 of 139 games including his start Wednesday.

So, how’s that giving Tork a day off thing going?

“Not going well for me,” Hinch said, laughing. “I did give him a DH day on the last homestand and he hit a homer … He’s not an easy guy to sit.”

Torkelson certainly isn’t clamoring for any days off, especially now that he’s already grinded through the dog days back in August.

“I feel like it’s every player’s dream to play a full 162,” he said. “You want to be available. From a young age, I’ve been preached that the best ability is availability. I take a lot of pride in that. I’m in the treatment room every single day to try to say ready and healthy and fresh.”

Torkelson took 582 plate appearances into the game Wednesday and has achieved offensive career-highs across the board. He’s hit the usual low-energy points throughout the season. There’ve been stretches where the bat feels like lead in his hands.

“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I started feeling like that at the beginning of August. But it’s just a matter of finding a way to go out and compete.”

For that he turns to a lesson Tigers’ special assistant and Hall-of-Famer Alan Trammell taught him back in Double-A.

“Tram was huge, he helped me a lot,” Torkelson said. “He told me about, for him, he’d have days where his swing felt terrible. He said, ‘I have my D-swing today, but how can you perform with your D-swing.’ He preached, take your hit the other way, get your walk and you’re 1 for 3 with a walk, play good defense and you helped the team.

“That gave me a lot of ease that when I’m not feeling amazing and I can still go out and trust myself and compete and win.”

Hinch said Torkelson will be getting another DH day soon and will most likely get a full day off one or two games during the club’s West Coast trip in the middle of the month.

Tigers at Yankees

▶ First pitch: 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Yankee Stadium, New York

▶ TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Scouting report

▶ LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (10-7, 3.10), Tigers: He beat the White Sox on Friday, allowing one run with seven strikeouts, despite not having his A-stuff. The velocity was down nearly 2 mph on his four-seamer so he pitched more off his changeup and cutter. He’s pitched relatively well at Yankee Stadium over his career, holding Yankee hitters to a .228 batting average in 11 starts.

 LHP Carlos Rodon (2-4, 5.70), Yankees: It’s been a broken season for the one-time Tiger killer (6-2 in 11 starts, most when he was with the White Sox). This will be only his 10th start. He didn’t make his first start of the season until July 7 and throughout August he battled a left hamstring injury. He still does his work with a 95-mph four-seamer and a darting slider (40% whiff rate).

Twitter/X: @cmccosky

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