First of 2 Greene catches over weekend earns Play of Week

June 27th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Riley Greene's right forearm showed the price of the biggest catch of his young Major League career as he sat in the Tigers clubhouse Sunday morning. It was scraped up from just before his wrist to his elbow, the result of his slide along the Chase Field turf Saturday night. It felt about the same as it looked.

“It was like a rock. It hurt,” Greene said.

He knew he’d be scraped up as soon as he decided to dive at Buddy Kennedy’s drive to right-center. (This amazing play earned Greene the Electric Play of the Week Award presented by Chevrolet on Monday.) Like everything else he has done in center field so far -- including another all-out diving catch on Sunday -- he decided quickly to try for it, even if he wasn’t convinced he was going to get to it.

“I dove, threw my glove out there and I caught it,” Greene explained. “Didn’t know if I was going to or not.”

He got it in large part thanks to what he did before he left his feet. In many ways, the catch of the Tigers’ 2022 season was a play in three acts.

According to Statcast, Greene had to cover 71 feet in 4.1 seconds to make the catch, which is why Statcast gave it a 25-percent catch probability. Greene covered 4.6 feet with his jump alone.

His jump was even better on Sunday's catch, as he covered 8.1 feet.

Greene has worked since Spring Training on his jumps, especially on preparing before a pitch is thrown. With work from Tigers Minor League outfield coordinator Arnie Beyeler -- who managed Greene at Double-A Erie last summer -- he studied himself on video and worked on his pre-pitch planning.

“It’s reading hitters and just getting work in batting practice, taking balls off the bat however many times I’m out there,” Greene said. “It just comes with a lot of practice.”

It also comes with confidence.

“When you start fast, you can finish plays,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “When it takes you longer to read plays, you’re not going to get to as many balls. And I’ve noticed that Riley is pretty good at making a quick decision and going.”

The second part of Saturday's play was Greene’s route efficiency. While Greene needed to cover 71 feet, he ended up covering 73. That’s not a lot of extra distance compared to the total distance covered.

“It’s very important,” Greene said. “I wouldn’t say I’m the fastest guy out there. I’m quick, but I’m not fast-fast. So I feel like getting the best jump I can get and getting the best route to the ball I can get is really big for me. I’m not going to kill them with speed out there.”

Said Hinch: “His instincts were great and he cut the distance. If he takes a deeper route, he doesn’t get it. If he takes a shallower route, he’s not going to get it. I thought it was right on line. But the full commitment from contact on his first step is the reason he got to it.”

Tyler Alexander, who was on the mound as Saturday's play unfolded, admitted he wasn’t so sure. As he described watching the play, he used his index fingers on each hand to show the ball and the outfielder going towards the same point.

“I could see the ball and the center fielder converging, and the math didn’t really add up,” he said. “You could see the ball was tailing away from him and you could see him running. I don’t really see him catching this. And then I see he’s going to dive and I’m like, ‘Don’t dive, don’t dive.’”

The dive, of course, was the last part. One reason Greene said he took the chance was that he knew right fielder Victor Reyes was also on the ball and was backing him up.

“I knew he was going to be there,” Greene said. “He gave me the chance to lay out and see if I can catch it, and if I didn’t, he was there to throw it into second.”

Instead, Reyes was there to give him a hand and pull him off the ground.

“All I did was just throw my hands up in the air and say, ‘Thank God,’” Alexander said.