Detroit Tigers OF Riley Greene diagnoses his hitting problems. What adjustments are needed

·6 min read

Riley Greene was deep into the first slump of his big-league career when he struck out swinging on a full-count pitch from Bryan Shaw in the seventh inning of the second game in Monday's doubleheader.

The Detroit Tigers, ahead by two runs at the time, had scored two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth inning. Greene craved a big insurance RBI, and on a down-and-in cutter from Shaw he swung and missed for the second of his three strikeouts. He also struck out on three pitches outside the zone in the first and three pitches inside the zone in the ninth.

Lonely trips back to the dugout are becoming all too common.

"I got to learn how to take my walk," Greene said to manager A.J. Hinch after one of his strikeouts in the 7-5 win over the Cleveland Guardians. The victory for the Tigers, now 45-75 overall, snapped an eight-game losing streak.

"No, you got to remember that you used to walk," Hinch responded.

Tigers center fielder Riley Greene reacts after striking out during the sixth inning of the Tigers' 2-0 loss on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Chicago.
Tigers center fielder Riley Greene reacts after striking out during the sixth inning of the Tigers' 2-0 loss on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Chicago.

When Greene showed up at Comerica Park on June 18, the 21-year-old wowed with a mature approach. For the first 24 games, from his MLB debut through July 13, the rookie refused to swing recklessly and walked at a 13.8% clip.

By his 11th game, the Tigers baptized him into the leadoff spot. Since July 13, based on the data and the eye test, Greene hasn't been the same player when he steps in the batter's box. His strikeout rate has skyrocketed; his walk rate has plummeted.

"He's in swing-first mentality from the very beginning," Hinch said. "He'll grow out of that and become a little bit more of a mature hitter. Self-diagnosis is probably the best way to get to that point. I'm walking him through, 'You used to walk. When you first got here, you walked a ton in the first 25-30 plate appearances, and then we decided we wanted to hit everything.' Hopefully, that can switch his mindset."

From July 14 through Aug. 18, a span of 30 games, Greene is swinging more often (39.5% to 49.4%), chasing pitches more often (26.6% to 36.1%) and striking out more often (21.1% to 38.5%). His first-pitch strike rate has jumped from 56% to 69.6%.

The Tigers have an 8-22 record during this stretch, with Greene walking three times — for a 2.2% walk rate — and striking out 50 times in 135 plate appearances. The Tigers went 13-8 in his first 24 games, as Greene recorded 15 walks compared to 23 strikeouts in 109 plate appearances.

"I'm trying to make stuff happen instead of just letting it come to me and trusting myself," Greene said. "I'm trying to stay relaxed, just trying to get the barrel on the ball, not trying to hit balls 7,000 feet but trying to hit them hard on the barrel and 325 feet."

'For me, I can't do that'

Greene, a left-handed hitter, has struggled with pitches across the bottom in the strike zone, below the zone, along the outermost quadrants in the zone and outside the zone. He has handled pitches over the heart of the plate, along with pitches up and inside.

Riley Greene strikeout rate chart through Aug. 18
Riley Greene strikeout rate chart through Aug. 18

As a result of these trends, pitchers are throwing more pitches below the zone and outside the zone. In August, he is 0-for-24 with 12 strikeouts against breaking pitches. He received 22.5% of these offerings in June, 29.1% in July and 33.2% in August.

"There's some at-bats where it's just, 'Dot, dot, dot, see you later.' It's a game of adjustments," Greene said. "Pitchers are going to adjust to me, and I got to adjust to them. It's going to be like that for the whole season. It's about trusting yourself, not missing pitches and hitting the ball when you can."

Another issue related to Greene's approach is his hits to the opposite field, a characteristic that made him dangerous in the minor leagues and early in the big leagues. He had a 32.4% opposite-field rate and a .255 batting average in his first 24 games, then a 24.1% rate in and a .208 average in his 30 games since July 14.

Dating to July 27, he is hitting 18.9% of balls in play to the opposite field.

Recently, Greene has been pull happy.

It's contributing to the walk and strikeout problems.

"For me, I can't do that," Greene said. "I gotta stay to the big part of the field, try to hit the ball the other way and in the gaps, and then when they come inside, trust my hands to get to it and pull it. I need to stay to the big part of the field, and that helps me see more balls and take more pitches that are strike to ball."

'Full commitment'

There's no need to panic.

But it's time for Greene — the No. 5 overall pick in 2019 — to adjust his approach. The mechanics of his swing don't appear to need any tweaks, but right now, trying to pull home runs and swinging at so many first pitches  aren't doing him any favors as the Tigers' leadoff hitter.

"I think the adjustment is going to come with a full commitment at the plate," Hinch said. "You want him to be aggressive and be ready to hit, but he's got to choose pitches that he can put in play on the barrel."

Tigers' Riley Greene watches his two-run double off Guardians starting pitcher Zach Plesac (not pictured)  during the fourth inning Friday, July 15, 2022, in Cleveland.
Tigers' Riley Greene watches his two-run double off Guardians starting pitcher Zach Plesac (not pictured) during the fourth inning Friday, July 15, 2022, in Cleveland.

Greene is 21 and is the youngest active player in the American League in August, as Tampa Bay Rays star Wander Franco has been on the injured list since July. A consistently good approach, rather than stretches of good and bad, could click at any moment.

In the first at-bat of his MLB career, Greene took a fastball outside of the strike zone to get ahead 1-0 in the count against Texas Rangers left-hander Taylor Hearn. He fought up an ensuing up-and-in slider for an opposite-field single. Later that game, in the eighth, he let an 0-2 fastball from lefty reliever John King travel deep into the hitting zone. He reacted and punched the ball for another opposite-field single.

"I feel like it comes naturally with your approach and seeing the ball well," Greene said.

Greene projects as an everyday player with All-Star upsidebut to reach his full potential the rookie has a plan with less than two months remaining.

"I'm going to go up there and get hits," Greene said. "I need to start taking my walks and staying the other way. Just really not trying to hit homers and let the homers happen. Just work on hitting line drives and ground balls the other way.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why walks are vital for Detroit Tigers rookie Riley Greene