DETROIT — Since the Tigers drafted Riley Greene fifth overall in 2019, his baseball skills have come under scrutiny. But beyond the smooth swing, quick strides and instinctive play, there’s this: He hates losing.
“He’s a competitor,” said Braves prospect Vaughn Grissom, Greene’s best friend and high school teammate in Oviedo, Fla., “and he’s not going to be okay with just laying down. “
Many professional athletes have this trait. But Greene really hate to lose.
“This guy literally plays golf right-handed,” Grissom said of southpaw Greene, who golfs with his left hand so he doesn’t mess up his baseball swing, “and he’s good, just because he doesn’t want to. not lose.”
Grissom said in a phone conversation Friday, just hours before the Tigers called Greene for his Major League debut. Greene, who was with Triple-A Toledo on the road and couldn’t get home Friday night, caught a Saturday morning flight to Detroit, drove to Comerica Park and joined a plummeting Tigers team. for much of the week. The hug he received from Miguel Cabrera in the clubhouse showed what his arrival meant.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to win, and now I’m going to do my best to help this team and do whatever I have to do,” Greene said early Saturday afternoon. “But we are going to win baseball games. That’s all I have to say.
Hours later, as Greene headed home with the Tigers’ 14th inning of the day, it was hard to argue that he hadn’t made a difference. No, he didn’t score all those runs, just a few, and he didn’t score any on his first two hits in the league either. But the energy with which the Tigers played in their 14-7 win over Rangers backed case manager AJ Hinch said Friday the Greene Spring Training foot injury that delayed his debut by two months was a punch for the whole team.
“It shows how much credibility Riley has gained at our club through his energy, his work, the vibe around him,” Hinch said.
Hinch didn’t want Greene to feel the weight of the club’s slow start on his shoulders. The way the Tigers hit up and down the lineup, he didn’t have to.
“I was just trying to have fun today,” Greene said. “That’s the name of the game, in my opinion. Have fun and everything else will take care of itself.
By the time the Tigers completed the first inning at bat, not only did Greene – sixth at bat – register his first Major League hit, but the Tigers also recorded more runs (three) than they had. had in their previous four games combined. (of them).
When a five-run fourth inning increased their lead to 9-1, they earned their second-highest run total of the season.
Two more runs in the fifth inning, one scored by Greene after a first walk and a sacrificial fly by Kody Clemens, meant the Tigers had as many runs in five innings (11) as they had posted in the previous eight games. of the combined homestand.
A sixth-inning three-run — again featuring Clemens driving Greene — pushed Detroit to its season-high, following the 13-0 victory on April 23, the same day Cabrera recorded his 3,000th hit.
This explosion was short-lived; the Tigers have scored 10 total points during their six-game losing streak. But Greene isn’t going anywhere, and the Tigers are hoping his lift isn’t either.
“This isn’t the first breakout game,” Hinch said. “We had long stretches in between, but I’m grateful because those guys needed it. This team needed it. Our staff needed it. Our fans needed it.
Greene reached base safely four times on four pitchers. His two hits were opposite field singles against lefties. He needed just two pitches, one in the strike zone, to register his first Major League hit, sending a single into Texas starter Taylor Hearn’s short left field. Members of his family, who flew from Orlando to Pittsburgh and then traveled to Detroit on Saturday due to crowded flights, were behind home plate cheering him on.
“When I ran to center field [for the first inning, I was] kinda nervous,” Greene said. “But once I got my first shot, I was all good after that.”
Greene started the eighth inning with a line drive to leave an 0-2 pitch from John King. But walks between the two, in back-to-back innings against right-handed relievers, made a bigger impression on Hinch. Jesus Tinoco put it in an 0-2 hole with pellets at 96mph, but Greene dismissed breaking balls to run the full count before another pellet missed low for a free pass leading into the fifth.
An inning later, Greene took a pair of tight pitches from José Leclerc en route to a walk.
“The quality of at-bats for five straight games is pretty impressive,” Hinch said. “I mean, it’s something we needed, and one of the reasons we’re excited about him.”
According to research on Baseball-Reference, Greene is the first Major League player to safely reach base four times in his debut since Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins had three hits and a walk on Aug. 10, 2018. No Tiger had done that since Scott Livingstone had three hits and a walk on July 19, 1991.
“Riley hits the mark,” said teammate and good friend Spencer Torkelson. “I remember when I got my first hit, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It looked like he was playing pretty free already anyway.