DETROIT -- Riley Greene already had a locker in the Tigers’ clubhouse Friday night, two stalls down from good friend and fellow rookie Spencer Torkelson. His Detroit Stars jersey, which the Tigers will be wearing Saturday, was hanging in the locker.
The symbolism was hard to miss as the Tigers absorbed their sixth straight loss, this one a 7-0 defeat to the Rangers at Comerica Park. As much as manager A.J. Hinch is trying to avoid any hint of Greene coming in to save the Tigers’ moribund offense, the locker was a symbol that help is on the way.
The Tigers have scored two runs in their last four games, tying their lowest output in a four-game span since 1976. They’ve scored one run in their last 35 innings, and haven’t had a run-scoring hit since Monday against the White Sox. They’ve been outscored by a 43-7 margin on their current skid, and a 54-11 gap through eight games of their season-long 10-game homestand.
The struggles have dropped Detroit 16 games under .500 for the first time since its 47-114 record at the end of the 2019 season. The team has now fallen below the low point of last season before the 2021 Tigers’ turnaround. It’s the first Hinch-managed team to fall 16 games under .500 since the 2010 Diamondbacks.
As Detroit digested Friday’s loss, having been held to five hits by Jon Gray and two relievers, a sense of Groundhog Day was creeping in, even as Hinch tried to stay in the present tense.
“I don’t know that I have [seen anything like this] before, but it’s our reality,” Hinch said. “I try to stay really present with what we’re dealing with and try to stay as positive as we can, but it [stinks]. I mean, there’s no way for me to kind of have to answer the same questions every night and have to give credit to the same pitchers every night.
“We’re all tired of it, but we’re going to wake up with the same challenge. We’ve got to continue to try to do better. I don’t have a better answer. Usually I do, but I don’t. We can’t be this bad, this long. That’s obvious.”
The one difference when the Tigers come to the ballpark Saturday is that Greene will be in the lineup -- batting sixth and playing center field -- something they’d been expecting on Opening Day before a fractured right foot put his Major League debut on hold. As much as Hinch doesn’t want to use him as a spark, Torkelson thinks he can.
“He’s well-prepared. He’s ready to be here. I think he might just be the spark this team needs right now,” Torkelson said. “He can change a ballgame. We’re not playing the best ball right now, obviously. Just to mix things up, have a new face in the lineup, that can change a game on both sides of the ball.”
Torkelson is an example of the big jump hitters face when they meet Major League pitching for the first time in a regular-season setting, and of why expectations should be tempered. He, too, was a top prospect coming into this year, but has faced a steep learning curve against pitchers who can throw almost any pitch for a strike in any count.
“I think everybody has a lot of challenges when they first get called up, and we’re seeing it first-hand by some really exceptional players,” Hinch said. “Like, I wish we could fast-forward two, three, four years from now and look back at these guys and laugh about how much they’ve struggled -- not just our guys, but across the league. The ability of these young kids to adjust to this level is going to be seen over time. Not everybody’s a perfect performer from the very beginning.”
One of Greene’s final tests in Toledo, incidentally, was another foul ball off his right leg that sent him hobbling. This one hit his shin in the late innings Thursday night at Worcester, sending Tigers officials into a brief panic. When Hinch called Mud Hens coach Adam Melhuse to see how Greene was moving, Melhuse said Greene responded that the only way he’d hit his shin again would be with a bad swing.
That approach was music to Hinch’s ears.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” Hinch said. “I just [hope he knows] the weight of the world is not on his shoulders. The success of our offense does not rely on him solely. We have a lot of guys that need to pick up the slack. Riley can help us immediately, but if we expect him to be the sole reason for an offensive turnaround, that’s completely unfair to Riley.”