Greene fractures foot, putting Tigers' OF mix in flux

April 2nd, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Riley Greene’s quest to be in center field on Opening Day at Comerica Park hit a tough-luck ending. The Tigers’ No. 2 prospect suffered a fractured right foot Friday when he fouled off a pitch from the Yankees' Gerrit Cole.

The fracture is not expected to require surgery, manager A.J. Hinch said on Saturday morning. No timetable has been revealed, but Hinch said he’ll be re-evaluated in a few weeks.

“I think a timeline at this point would be unnecessary,” Hinch said. “Right now, it's nonsurgical -- which is a good sign. So there's a chance it could be on one [shorter] timeline, and there's certainly always the dreaded longer [timeline] than that. Clearly, [he is] not going to be available to start the season.”

How it happened

Ironically, the injury was a byproduct of one of Greene's better at-bats of a torrid Spring Training against last year's AL Cy Young runner-up. Greene, MLB Pipeline's No. 5 prospect, had fouled off back-to-back pitches from Cole to stay alive in a 1-2 count -- first a buckling Cole curveball, then a 97 mph fastball. The latter pitch was the foul ball that hit off his foot.

Greene had very little reaction, stayed in the box and centered Cole's next pitch, a changeup, for a 404-foot drive to the center-field fence. Greene was seemingly running at full speed, though one evaluator in attendance said his stride seemed to change around second base.

The young outfielder stood on third base as five more batters came to the plate, scoring before the inning ended but then exiting the game with the training staff.

The tests were initially precautionary, Hinch said, but showed the more serious injury.

What’s the impact

Greene’s injury throws the Tigers’ outfield mix into flux. Though Hinch hadn’t anointed him to Detroit’s Opening Day roster, all signs were pointing in that eventual decision and Greene starting in center field on Opening Day.

“It was heading that way, I would say,” general manager Al Avila said. “Riley wasn’t doing anything to discourage us. Unfortunately, the injury came at a bad time.”

The 21-year-old batted 9-for-21 (.429) in Grapefruit League play with three doubles, two triples, two home runs and four RBIs.

“Obviously, he was having a great spring,” Hinch said. “He was trending all in the right direction. He's super-energetic, great kid, great attitude. He's taking this news as [positively] as he can, and obviously we'll welcome him back as soon as he's back healthy again. Truly disappointed for him and our organization. We hadn't informed anybody of anything on how it was all going to go down, but clearly he was playing well and trending in the right direction. It's disappointing for him specifically because of the work he put in to make a good impression.”

How long will he be out?

The Tigers didn’t specify the nature of Greene’s foot injury, but reports suggest it’s a nondisplaced fracture around the bottom part of the foot. Nondisplaced fractures typically take 6-8 weeks. The fact that the Tigers plan to re-evaluate in a few weeks suggests at least six weeks.

“I guess with that injury, it came out to be the best possible solution where there's no surgery needed,” Avila said. “He'll be healing and our hope is that he can get back on the field soon and at that point we can make another decision.”

Beyond the healing process, Greene will face a rehab assignment of some length to get back to game speed. Keep in mind, too, that Greene is not on the Tigers’ 40-man roster, so the team can option him to the Minor Leagues and let him rehab on a standard assignment without any time limitations.

How to fill the void

Avila said the Tigers are looking at possibilities on the market to see who’s available, as they are in various areas, but that they’ll likely fill the void from within the organization.

“As always, we're going to be looking,” Avila said. “Between now and Opening Day, anything can happen. I think the probability is we're going to handle it internally.”

Normally, Derek Hill would be in position to fill the opening in center field. However, Hill has been sidelined since suffering a right hamstring strain on Wednesday. The injury is categorized as low-grade, but Hinch said he won’t be ready for Opening Day.

“If we had a little bit more time, we would be more optimistic that we would get him out there,” Hinch said. “But we're not going to press it just to leave on Wednesday. He will stay back [in Lakeland] and get a little bit of work in before we can get a rehab assignment.

Hill should be able to return sometime in April, Hinch said.

“That should be maybe a couple weeks at the most, we're hopeful,” Avila said.

That leaves Victor Reyes as the expected starter in center alongside Akil Baddoo and right fielder Robbie Grossman. The reserve outfield spots are more complicated and are likely to involve players who play the outfield among other positions, rather than pure outfielders.

“Internally, we're looking at [catcher/outfielder Eric] Haase and [utility player] Willi [Castro] as being a little bit more geared towards the outfield,” Hinch said.

Outfielder Daz Cameron, who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo earlier this week, will not be recalled, Hinch said.