Torkelson checks homer off wish list in Arizona return

Former No. 1 overall pick out of Arizona State belts 428-foot jack in front of family, friends

May 20th, 2024

PHOENIX -- Despite the Tigers' offense breaking out for 21 runs and 32 hits over the previous two games, the club’s signature Pizza Spear started getting cold as it remained untouched tucked between the helmets and bats in the dugout.

That changed when fired up the oven in the third inning of Sunday afternoon’s 6-4 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field.

The 24-year-old swung mightily at an offering down the middle from Jordan Montgomery and barreled the ball with a sizzling 106.5 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast.

Torkelson knew it wasn’t staying in the yard. He admired his third dinger of the season by watching it travel a projected 428 feet into the balcony in left-center field before smoothly flipping his bat toward the Tigers’ on-deck circle and beginning his home run trot.

As he reached home plate, Torkelson pointed toward his parents, who were sitting behind home plate at Chase Field, which is 11 miles away from where Torkelson became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft at Arizona State University.

“Gosh, I've been feeling really good lately,” Torkelson said. “That one felt a little extra special. With my parents, family and a couple of buddies here, I got the show out in front of them.”

Detroit’s first baseman raised the Pizza Spear for the first time this series, although the Tigers weren’t able to bring out the brooms for their inaugural series sweep of the season.

Regardless, many of the Tigers’ batters found their oasis this weekend in the desert, and Torkelson is showing the potential the club saw in him during his time at ASU.

Torkelson has been inconsistent at the plate over his first three seasons, combining for a .228 batting average and 312 strikeouts during that stretch. However, in 2023, he slugged 31 home runs with 94 RBIs, showing how dangerous he can be when connecting with the ball.

He’s begun to turn things around. Prior to May 5, Torkelson was slashing .205/274/.279. Since then, he’s recorded a slash line of .286/.340/.571, with an OPS of .911 and collected at least one hit in 11 of his past 12 contests.

“I'm being more selectively aggressive,” Torkelson said. “That's always my game plan. I wasn't really good at doing that in the first 30 games. Just getting back to myself if getting a good pitch to hit.”

The right-handed hitter smashed 54 career homers for the Sun Devils, three shy of the program record, but still holds a nine-home-run lead over fellow alum Barry Bonds -- and could’ve been atop the record book if his final season wasn’t cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Torkelson was the fourth Sun Devil to go No. 1 overall in the MLB Draft and, at the time, was the first to go undrafted out of high school to the No. 1 overall pick since Nebraska outfielder Darin Erstad in 1995.

Torkelson was in the lineup the last time the Tigers were in downtown Phoenix during his rookie season in 2022, but didn’t connect with the long ball. That’s why when the ball found the seats, it completed a goal Torkelson had when he was hitting jacks at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

“I love Arizona,” said Torkelson, who makes his offseason home in Gilbert, Ariz. “There's great fan support. Everyone's saying, ‘Go Sun Devils.’ It's really neat coming back here because there is a really good following.

“I had an off-day here, got to sleep in my own bed. So, it was all good.”

Torkelson had a strong return to his adoptive home, but Javier Baéz had the best weekend. Detroit’s $140 million-dollar shortstop finished 8-for-13 with seven RBIs and boosted his career slash line at Chase Field to .365/.390/.649 with a 1.038 OPS and 23 RBIs over 18 games played here.

“He's hit the ball hard, which has been noticeable,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “There's still a chase or two in there, and he's dealt with that pretty well. He hasn't really allowed himself to get too high or too low.”

Along with Torkelson, a couple of his other teammates who shared a connection to the Grand Canyon State showed out. Tarik Skubal twirled a gem in front of his family, Colt Keith recorded his four-hit game and Carson Kelly got two crucial RBIs against the team that designated him for assignment last season.

“If you're around long enough,” Hinch said. “You're going to get some nostalgia involved where you're going to places that you're familiar with. You try to win the game, try to have your moments, but it’s more of a reflection thing.”