Tork flashes defensive prowess in MLB debut

April 9th, 2022

DETROIT -- Tigers manager A.J. Hinch hasn’t had to say much to Spencer Torkelson about fitting into the Major Leagues. When they were both early arrivals to Comerica Park on Friday morning, however, they sat down together for breakfast in the clubhouse.

“We just all encouraged him to soak it up,” Hinch said before the Opening Day game.

After Torkelson received one of the loudest ovations during pregame introductions, he knew what Hinch was talking about.

“The introduction before the game started was pretty special,” Torkelson said. “I thought I was going to forget how to jog for a second.”

By the end of the Tigers’ 5-4 walk-off win over the White Sox, Torkelson was soaking up nearly every ball hit in his path. Detroit's No. 1 prospect will head into the weekend still looking for his first Major League hit, but by robbing a hit from Leury García and scooping several throws at first base, he made sure he still left his mark in his big league debut.

“We don’t win the game without Tork’s defense,” Hinch said.

Eduardo Rodriguez induced three ground-ball outs in his first three innings. All three were outs thanks to nice grabs at first from Torkelson, who had barely calmed down from pregame introductions when he stretched to scoop a throw from Jeimer Candelario headed for the dirt for the second out of the game before corralling a Javier Báez throw from deep in the hole in the second inning.

The real Tork Gem came when García lined the first pitch of the sixth inning to the right side with a projected 101.8 mph exit velocity. The ball had an expected batting average of .710 according to Statcast, but Torkelson -- showing off some of the quick reactions from his half-season stint as a third baseman last year -- dove to his right to make the grab in mid-air.

“Yeah, off the bat, I thought I had that one,” Torkelson said.

Torkelson’s day at the plate was tougher. He slammed his bat as he popped out to first base in his first Major League at-bat against Chicago ace Lucas Giolito in the second inning, then flied out to right field in the fifth. A Kendall Graveman slider caught the zone for a called third strike in the seventh inning, then Liam Hendriks fanned him to lead off the ninth.

It was a reminder that Spring Training at-bats don’t carry to Opening Day. But Friday was also a reminder that defense wins games.

“Don’t just go to the batting average on Tork,” Hinch said. “He’s a pretty good player all the way around. He didn’t get that first hit yet, but he contributed.”