Greene's latest leaping grab sets stage for sweep

September 25th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Tyler Alexander made himself a popular teammate among the Tigers’ left-handed outfielders by offering to break in their new gloves when he shags fly balls during pregame batting practice. He did it for Robbie Grossman before Grossman’s trade to Atlanta two months ago, and he has been doing the same for Riley Greene since his call-up from Triple-A Toledo in June. It takes a lot of work, which is why outfielders don’t always have the time to do it themselves.

Greene's new glove isn’t ready for game action just yet. That’s OK, though, because his old one is working just fine.

On Sunday, as Greene reached over Guaranteed Rate Field’s outfield fence to bring back Andrew Vaughn’s 405-foot drive to left-center field, he showed Alexander the value that a good, worn-in glove can have.

“He likes it floppy,” Alexander said with Greene’s glove-in-waiting in his duffel bag after the Tigers’ 4-1 win over the White Sox, which completed Detroit’s first three-game series sweep in Chicago since 2018.

Consider it an example of Greene paying it forward, and the latest in a long line of reasons why the Tigers’ rookie center fielder is quickly become his pitchers’ best friend. It was one catch, but it arguably turned Alexander’s outing around.

After trading zeros with White Sox starter and Tiger nemesis Dylan Cease for three innings, Alexander was teetering in the fourth. Yoán Moncada hit his first pitch of the inning out to left-center to open the scoring, and an AJ Pollock single through the middle put a runner on with no outs for Vaughn, who turned on Alexander’s first-pitch cutter and launched a ball deep to left-center.

Alexander is pretty good at being able to gauge Greene’s chance at a catch by following his route toward the ball. Greene was shaded slightly to right-center, but got a solid jump.

“I knew that he was going to jump at the wall,” Alexander said. “I could tell by the way he was kind of coasting to it the last few feet. I was just hoping that it wasn’t hit too far over the fence and he’d be able to bring it in.”

The hang time gave him a chance to cover 107 feet to get to the fence for a leaping attempt.

“He hit it pretty high, and I got a good jump,” Greene said. “I kind of knew where I was at. Once I hit the track, I knew I was going to have to get up there. I jumped and kind of said a prayer and threw my glove up.”

Even Greene had to check his glove as he fell against the fence to see if he had made the catch. Simply holding Vaughn to a double would’ve scored Pollock and put Vaughn on base for Gavin Sheets' ensuing single.

“Didn’t really know if I had it when my glove was over the fence,” Greene said. “Once I brought it back, I knew I felt it in there and I had to get it back in so [Pollock] couldn’t get to second.”

It was a catch impressive enough that even some White Sox fans, who had been heckling Tigers players for much of the weekend, had to marvel.

“Saved two runs,” Alexander said. “I wasn’t sure he caught it at first, so I kind of waited until he threw the ball in. And then I threw my hands up.”

It was the latest highlight of Greene’s rookie season, which will arguably be known as much for his defense as his offense. He entered the game rated as plus-2 Outs Above Average (OAA) according to Statcast, converting 90 percent of his plays into outs compared to an expected rate of 89 percent.

The extra one percent comes down to plays like Sunday. Statcast breaks down OAA by direction, and Greene rates at plus-4 on plays behind him.

That's not bad for a rookie whose chances of sticking in center seemed doubtful when the Tigers allowed his teenage self to begin his pro career there at Single-A West Michigan in the summer of 2019. He now ranks in the top 20 percent of Major League outfielders in terms of jump, and his willingness to commit to a route to the ball early and go full-speed allows him to make up for any route inefficiency.

He’ll have a body of experience when he steps into AL Central ballparks again next year, and possibly with a new glove broken in.

“I’m still working on it,” Alexander said with a smile.