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Greiner's revival inspires amid Tigers' struggles

Loss marks Detroit's 15th straight against Tribe
@castrovince
September 17, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Things look bleak now. But the game often offers an opportunity to revive, to recover, to rewrite the story. Grayson Greiner knows a little something about that. And in the midst of a lost Tigers season that continued with another difficult, 7-2 defeat at the hands of the

CLEVELAND -- Things look bleak now. But the game often offers an opportunity to revive, to recover, to rewrite the story.

Grayson Greiner knows a little something about that. And in the midst of a lost Tigers season that continued with another difficult, 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Indians on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, he’s an example of the good that can come with the bad in this game.

Box score

Mere weeks ago, Greiner was still wearing the back brace that accompanied a debilitating stress reaction in his lower spine -- an injury that made a subpar statistical season all the more maddening. Now, with another multi-hit effort Tuesday, the 26-year-old Greiner is raking in the big leagues -- proof that a process through the pain can lead to production.

“I feel much more comfortable and in a much better place mentally than where I was three months ago,” Greiner said. “Sometimes God blesses you with an obstacle you don’t really expect or understand, but that time off worked wonders for me mentally and physically.”

The Tigers have to hope what is now a 105-loss season -- with the .300 winning percentage standing as the second-worst in franchise history behind only the 119-loss debacle of 2003 -- works similar wonders in the long run. As any team in their position would do, they are using these final days of ’19 to evaluate their young players, to search for positives, to bring the building blocks to light.

They might have one in Greiner, who could be playing himself back into the 2020 plans behind the plate by finishing this season with a flourish. He looks nothing like the all-too-easy-out of old -- the guy who was sitting on a .161/.229/.277 slash on June 13, when he felt pain in his back during a pregame batting practice and, as a result, wound up missing two-and-a-half months of big league action while going through the rehab process and a setback at Class A Advanced Lakeland.

He spent three weeks in a brace -- an experience that made hitting .161 in the bigs look pretty appealing, by comparison.

“I guess the best way to describe it is I was sitting in a hotel room in Lakeland [Fla.] every day and thinking, ‘I could be in the big leagues struggling,’” he said. “There’s a lot worse things going on in the world than struggling in the Major Leagues. I just made a vow to myself if I get back up there, I’m just going to play carefree, play with confidence and see what happens and where it takes me from there.”

In addition to the shift in mental mindset that accompanied his Sept. 3 return to the Tigers’ active roster, Greiner has also made some adjustments to his plate approach. He’s chasing less, he’s staying on the ball better and he’s cranking out hits.

“He had time down in the Minor Leagues to get away from the pressure of this, the rat race up here where everything is magnified,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He got healthy and found his swing. He’s brought it right here with him. We can tell the difference in his swing.”

On Tuesday -- a night otherwise marred for the Tigers by Zac Reininger’s abbreviated first Major League start, some defensive gaffes and an overall inability to generate momentum at the plate while falling to the Indians for the 16th time in 17 tries -- Greiner smacked a ground-rule double to right-center field in his first at-bat in the third and later scored on a Victor Reyes single. Greiner added another single in the fifth, giving him half the Tigers’ hits and his fifth multi-hit game of the month.

Greiner’s now batting .417 (15-for-36) with three extra-base hits and five runs scored since the callup -- a contrast to the struggles of fellow catcher Jake Rogers (11-for-96, with 46 strikeouts).

“We have two young guys trying to figure it out,” Gardenhire said. “Greiner’s a little bit ahead of [Rogers] and has a little bit more experience.”

How the Tigers decide to handle the catching duties in 2020 remains to be seen. But they can go into the offseason feeling a lot better about what they have in Greiner than they did a few months ago. It’s the kind of story a rebuilding club hopes emerges in a season of struggles.

“I’m just going to try to have a positive attitude,” said Greiner, “and have a positive effect on my teammates.”

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.