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Greiner already making an impact in spring

6-foot-6 backstop clubs two-run homer vs. Phils
@beckjason
February 25, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire had a workhorse catcher for the first half of his managerial stint with the Twins in Joe Mauer, whose 6-foot-5 frame squatted behind home plate for five seasons of 105 or more starts. Mauer caught a career-high 139 games in 2008. Fast forward

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire had a workhorse catcher for the first half of his managerial stint with the Twins in Joe Mauer, whose 6-foot-5 frame squatted behind home plate for five seasons of 105 or more starts. Mauer caught a career-high 139 games in 2008.

Fast forward to Gardenhire’s Tigers tenure, and he has somehow found an even bigger catcher in 6-foot-6 Grayson Greiner. Gardenhire does not know yet how many games the former 2014 third-round Draft pick might catch in his first full Major League season, but he isn’t ruling out Greiner getting a heavy share of the workload behind the plate.

“I’d love to have a guy catch 100-plus games,” Gardenhire said last week. “I think Greiner should be able to handle that if he continues to progress like he is.”

Three games into Spring Training is a small sample size, but the progress is noticeable. If Greiner can build off the early momentum, he has an opportunity to establish himself as the unquestioned starter.

Greiner's two-run home run in the fourth inning of Monday's 12-7 loss to the Phillies followed a second-inning double, giving him three extra-base hits in his first four Grapefruit League at-bats this year.

Greiner's manager from Triple-A Toledo last year, Doug Mientkiewicz, thinks he can do it.

“It’s going to take some time to command the pitching staff, but he’s all ears,” said Mientkiewicz, who managed the Tigers’ split-squad in Monday’s contest. “You don’t realize how big he is until he stands up, and that’s a positive thing. He stops the running game. He blocks well. He doesn’t take pitches off. I know guys love throwing to him. …

“We let go of a pretty good backstop [James McCann] to give him a shot, and I think G’s earned it.”

Though Greiner has focused on building a trust with a Tigers pitching staff that largely grew around McCann, Greiner’s early impression this spring has been at the plate rather than behind it.

When Greiner underwent offseason surgery to remove a bone chip from his right wrist, the resulting question was whether it might hinder him in Spring Training. Instead, it might have unleashed a swing that was hampered by an injury Greiner said he felt since 2012, his freshman season at the University of South Carolina.

Greiner never had the injury checked out, he said, because he could play through it. A swing in winter ball in the Dominican League this past offseason finally brought it to a point where Greiner couldn’t play through the ailment anymore.

“As far as swing mechanics and bad habits, I wouldn’t say it was that,” Greiner said. “Just maybe being able to swing more freely and not having any hang-ups on anything that’s going to flare up.”

Greiner batted .219 (21-for-96) over 30 games for Detroit in the Majors last season. He owns a .248 average and .697 OPS over five Minor League seasons.

“He’s in great shape,” Gardenhire said. “He’s moving really well. You can tell his swing is really good right now, and that’s because he had the little surgery. So you know what, hopefully we can put it on him. And if he can’t handle it, we’ll put it on somebody else. But I think the kid’s going to be OK.”

So, too, does Mientkiewicz. The only work he had to do with Greiner was to try to bring a mean streak out of him, to be more forceful with pitchers on what types of pitches he’s calling.

“He’s just one of those kids that you pull for because he works so hard, and guys love him,” Mientkiewicz said. “And that’s a positive thing behind the plate. You always feel like your team’s taking the energy of the guy that’s catching, and he’s the right guy to have back there.”

Mienkiewicz's debut

Monday’s split-squad game was the first time Mientkiewicz has managed a Major League club after six seasons managing in the Tigers' and Twins' systems.

“It was still a game, and I don’t like losing,” Mientkiewicz said. “I was really looking forward to coming back and telling Gardy, 'I got it.' … I ran through the dugout screaming, ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression, so let’s go.’”

Norris, Zimmermann toss two scoreless

While Jordan Zimmermann pitched two perfect innings for the Tigers’ split squad in Clearwater, Fla., Daniel Norris worked on the opposite coast, tossing two hitless innings with two walks in a 3-3 tie at the Cardinals. An adjustment between innings settled him down, he told reporters, commanding fastballs at 91 mph.

“I’ve said it all spring, nothing hurts,” Norris said. “The [velocity] will come. You want it to be there, but if I get people out, I get people out.”

Harrison, Fulmer set to debut Wednesday

The Tigers’ next Spring Training home game Wednesday could mark the debuts of a few players. While Josh Harrison could make his first appearance in a Detroit uniform, Michael Fulmer is slated to make his first appearance this spring as he returns from knee surgery. Lefty reliever Daniel Stumpf, meanwhile, could also make his first appearance of the spring after throwing to hitters on the back fields Sunday.

Up next

The Tigers’ two-day, three-game road trip across the Grapefruit League ends Tuesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where Matthew Boyd will make his first start of the spring in a 1:10 p.m. ET game against the Mets at First Data Field. The game will be available on MLB.TV and MLB Network (outside the Detroit area).

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.