'I knew it was gone': Tork crushes career-high 446-foot homer

May 14th, 2024

DETROIT -- The newly unveiled bat-tracking data from Statcast suggests that has the swing to be a more productive hitter, if he could just get his timing down at the plate. As he watched his eighth-inning drive sail 446 feet to left field Monday night, sending the Tigers back on top for a 6-5 win over the Marlins at Comerica Park, his timing seemed pretty good.

A day after Torkelson’s first home run of the season came in a lopsided Tigers loss, his second meant a lot more, for Torkelson and the Tigers alike.

“You just have to feel it once, like a lot of things in life,” Torkelson said. “You feel it and then it's repeatable. It's just about getting the first one.”

This is a big reason why the Tigers have stuck with Torkelson through his early-season struggles. He’s a streaky hitter who can heat up in a hurry, and he can lift an offense when he does. In Monday’s case, he lifted the Tigers off the brink of falling under .500 for the first time this season.

“I'm really happy for him,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I mean, you could see the emotion when he hit it. It’s been a long stretch for him, and for him to come up big in a big moment with a big swing, literally a game-changer, very rewarding for a lot of work for him and the people around him.”

Torkelson's bat flip reflected his demeanor throughout his search for his 2023 stretch-run form. It wasn’t an angry flip, not over-the-top. But as he took the bat handle and toppled it end-over-end, he put an exclamation point on his redemption.

“It means a good amount,” Torkelson said. “It definitely feels good, but it's going to take a lot more than 40 a-little-below-average games to get me down.”

It’s a result that at least some Statcast data suggested had been coming.

Bat-tracking data unveiled Monday shows that Torkelson has above-average bat speed (73.6 miles per hour on average, 78th percentile among MLB players) and a short swing (7.4 feet, second among qualified Tigers hitters behind Riley Greene), ingredients that should equate to quality swings, home runs and production. However, Torkelson ranks last in that group in “squaring up” the ball, or getting at least 80 percent of the maximum possible exit velocity on a swing based on the swing speed and the pitch.

That gets to the root of his struggles: being on time for pitches.

“A lot of times, he’s just trying to find solutions,” Hinch said before Monday’s game. “The work that he’s doing was not to hit a homer. One home run just to fill a column to calm the conversation about that is not what he’s searching for. He’s expecting himself to put up four good at-bats every night. Whether that’s through video or conversation or whatnot, he’s got to continue to push forward with what his game plan is and take the game plan into execution during games.”

Torkelson's early at-bats Monday were not rewarded. Though he was one of the few Tigers to lift the ball on Marlins starter Sixto Sánchez, the knocks were easy flyouts off early-count cutters. Torkelson also worked a full count off lefty Andrew Nardi, but he hit an elevated slider on the ground to short.

While Torkelson’s struggles have been most evident on fastballs -- against which he had a .195 average entering Monday -- he has actually been more productive on breaking pitches than last year, batting .295 against them; it was a sweeper that Torkelson hit for his first homer Sunday. So while Marlins righty Anthony Maldonado entered Monday with a 44 percent whiff rate on his slider, Torkelson had reason to believe -- even after chasing one off the plate for strike two.

“I actually kind of unintentionally set him up with the swing before,” Torkelson said. “It's a good slider, so I definitely had that in the back of my mind.”

Said Maldonado: “I think if I put the slider in a good spot, I get Torkelson there. And I just so happened to hang it, and he didn't miss it."

Torkelson crushed it. The resulting drive was the longest of his career.

“The feeling alone -- I knew it was gone,” he said, "so I just enjoyed it.”