Meadows' great catch even had Skubal fooled

February 28th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- saw Jason Delay connect with his 97 mph fastball on Wednesday, saw the ensuing drive get up into the wind, turned away, and asked for a new ball.

“I didn’t even watch it, I thought it was a homer,” Skubal said. “He hit it and I put my head down and I just looked at our dugout. And then [] caught it and [pitching coach Chris] Fetter [signals] out, and I was like, ‘Really? That’s not a homer?’ And then I looked back and he’s at the wall.”

As long as the ball stays in the park, Meadows usually has a chance. The 393-foot drive wasn’t really close to going out despite a 55 percent hit probability -- the only Major League park it would’ve left is Cleveland’s Progressive Field, according to Statcast -- but Meadows had to sprint to the warning track in right-center and leave his feet to make an acrobatic running catch.

“Kind of a crosswind blowing out to left, so I knew that anything in the right-center gap wasn’t going to carry as much,” said Meadows, who noted the jump at the end was a last-second reaction. “Off the bat, I knew he hit it well, I knew I had to go and I knew I had a chance to catch it.”

It wasn’t a highlight catch in the Tigers’ 5-3 win over the Pirates, in part because the game wasn’t televised. But it was the latest example of Meadows making an impact in the field and using his athleticism and instincts to make a difficult catch look relatively easy.

Meadows needed just six weeks’ worth of games in center field to rate at four Outs Above Average. His 98 percent success rate on plays in center field was four percent above expectations. He was plus-1 OAA on plays going back and towards right field.

It was quite the rookie impression, but he went into the offseason looking to improve. He worked on his explosiveness at a facility in Winder, Georgia, near his offseason home.

“The jumps,” said Meadows. “That’s just a focus thing for me. Expect the ball every pitch. Being up in Detroit with all that adrenaline, that obviously helped. Just keep improving on that explosiveness and getting good jumps. The first step is the most important one.”

No concern with early gas
For years, many pitchers would use Spring Training to build up their velocity until they were at regular-season speed near the end of camp. If there was any sign needed that those days are over in Tigers camp, Jason Foley’s 100 mph sinkers, in his first Grapefruit League outing on Tuesday, was an obvious one.

Foley’s role in Detroit’s bullpen is secure, so it’s not like he was dealing with the adrenaline of competing for an Opening Day roster spot. Instead, it’s a sign of a larger theme in camp, that the Tigers’ young pitchers did more offseason work and reported to camp closer to game ready than years past.

“I think the velocity right now across the league is all reflective of what the players have committed to do over the offseason,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “And it’s not necessarily universal, but to the players that are showing peak velocity now, they did a ton of work to put themselves in this position. It’s hard to argue with that. You can’t tell a player to throw slower.”

That realization could lead to a change in Spring Training regimens in the future, perhaps working in more rest during camp or different ramp-up programs.

Skubal, for his part, topped out at 99 mph on two fastballs Wednesday as part of two hitless innings in his first start of the spring. He noted the preparation that he and others put in during the offseason to be ready for camp.

“Me personally, I feel like when I’m working at lower velocities, I create bad habits, and those habits become hard to break,” Skubal said.

Quick hits
• Tigers No. 20 prospect Wenceel Pérez, whose Spring Training debut last Saturday included a couple errors at second base, hit his first Grapefruit League home run Wednesday in a go-ahead two-run eighth inning.

• Casey Mize and Matt Manning, who started separate ends of split-squad games on Tuesday, will team up for a piggyback start on Sunday against the Yankees in Tampa.