Riley Greene 'excited' for MLB debut: 'We're going to start winning baseball games'

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Tigers outfielder Riley Greene with third base coach Ramon Santiago after hitting a triple against the Yankees in the third inning during spring training at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday, April 1, 2022. Greene had fouled a pitch off his right foot earlier in the at-bat and suffered a fracture.
Tigers outfielder Riley Greene with third base coach Ramon Santiago after hitting a triple against the Yankees in the third inning during spring training at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday, April 1, 2022. Greene had fouled a pitch off his right foot earlier in the at-bat and suffered a fracture.

As Riley Greene walked across the Detroit Tigers clubhouse, Miguel Cabrera looked up from his phone, stood and greeted him with a smile.

"What's up, brother?" Cabrera asked as he dapped the rookie before giving him a brief hug.

"Excited, man," Greene responded. "I'm very excited."

"Me too," Cabrera said.

Riley Greene was penciled into the No. 6 spot in the lineup in his MLB debut Saturday.
Riley Greene was penciled into the No. 6 spot in the lineup in his MLB debut Saturday.

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The two had expected to be in the same lineup sooner than this — Greene, who Cabrera called the Tigers' best hitter this spring, was tracking to be the team's Opening Day center fielder after batting .429 with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, three walks and six strikeouts in 11 games.

A foul ball off his right foot with less than a week remaining in spring training delayed his debut to Saturday, with the 21-year-old spending six weeks healing before rehab stints with Low-A Lakeland and Triple-A Toledo.

Greene was called up from Toledo on Saturday to make his debut against the Texas Rangers, batting sixth and playing center, just more than 24 hours after he found out he was getting the call.

"I had just came out of the training room, I was getting my ankle taped and our hitting coach (Adam Melhuse) said, 'Greeney, come here a second,' " Greene said Saturday. "We were talking about hitting the past couple days, so I was thinking maybe he's going to show me a video on his laptop or something.

"He asked me some questions, trying to make it a normal conversation, and then told me I was getting the call-up, so that was awesome."

Greene called his parents first, then his girlfriend; by the time he got back to his phone in his locker, he said, "It blew up."

Getting to Detroit was another thing. Greene was with the Mud Hens in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a series against the Red Sox's affiliate. But getting a flight Friday night was impossible, Greene said. Flights were canceled and delayed, and the U.S. Open, contested in Brookline (a Boston suburb) added to the travel issues.

Instead, he stayed at the airport hotel to grab an early flight Saturday, then drove to Comerica Park. Though that journey doesn't compare to what his parents faced to make it in time.

"They came from Orlando, but they couldn't find a flight to Detroit," he said Saturday afternoon. "So they flew into Pittsburgh, and they're driving as we speak right now."

Toledo Mud Hens outfielder Riley Greene, the Detroit Tigers' top prospect, bats against the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio.
Toledo Mud Hens outfielder Riley Greene, the Detroit Tigers' top prospect, bats against the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio.

Greene was hitting .279 with a .338 OBP and .725 OPS in 62 at-bats for Toledo, including one home run, eight RBIs and three steals.

The No. 2 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, will become the eighth Tigers player — following Beau Brieske, Kody Clemens, Angel De Jesus, Alex Faedo, Elvin Rodríguez and Joey Wentz — to debut this season.

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch has had the same message for each debut: Enjoy the day you've waited for your whole life, and don't try to do too much. But on Saturday, he said it is different when the debut is as highly anticipated as Greene's.

"We've been anticipating this, if you've been following (the Tigers), when I came here, one of the first conversations he was mentioned to me," Hinch said. "This is not unexpected. Maybe the day, the timing, the opponent, the circumstances, that's really the only thing that's changed. But I think Riley Greene was going to be a big-leaguer probably the day that he signed."

'GREENE DAY': Detroit Tigers game vs. Texas Rangers: Riley Greene bats sixth, plays CF in debut

Still, Greene will need to adjust — though he's already well acquainted with Comerica Park. With no minor-league season in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Greene trained extensively at Comerica.

"I did know where to go," he said. "I knew to take a right to go to the locker room."

However, he didn't know everything, like what the Tigers' pregame schedule was.

So reliever Will Vest, whose locker is to the right of Greene's, walked him around a pillar in the middle of the clubhouse and pointed to the TV with schedule on it, detailing the timeline for stretching, infield practice and batting practice.

Tigers infielder Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene watch against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park on Saturday, March 19, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida.
Tigers infielder Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene watch against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park on Saturday, March 19, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida.

Greene's locker is is next to Torkelson's. That's likely not by accident. The two have roomed together for multiple stints in Florida; Hinch joked it was among his first conversations with Greene when he called him Friday evening

Hinch said he expects Greene to be around for the long haul, but that doesn't mean he will be an All-Star immediately.

"We have a really good player on our hands that we need to break into the big leagues and make him better," Hinch said. "He's got a lot to learn, he's not a finished product. An arrival does not mean he's perfect."

But Greene has lived up to expectations since the Tigers took him No. 5 overall in 2019, including a 2021 in which he hit .301 with 24 home runs, 25 doubles and eight triples. 

"His bat-to-ball skills, he's hit everywhere," Hinch said. "There's been an adjustment period he's needed, there's been some swing-and-miss, there's been a learning curve like there is with everybody, but he's always hit.

"The thing that excited me the most was how his teammates responded to him, he'd gained the respect and credibility amongst the group because of that performance in the spring. He hits the ball as hard as anybody. ... There's not a lot of overarching weaknesses, there's a lot of strengths and that's a good combo."

Greene knows he's joining a Tigers squad which has lost six straight games to fall to  24-40, the third-worst record in the American League. The Tigers' offense ranks last or near-last in almost every category.

Greene said he'll do what he can.

"We're a team, we're going to do everything in our power to win," he said. "I'm going to try my best to help this team out and win, whatever I've got to do.

"But we're going to win baseball games, that's all I'm going to say."

Pineda, Candelario close to return

Two injured Tigers appear to be nearing returns.

Michael Pineda, who broke the middle finger on his throwing hand when he took a line drive off it May 14, will begin his rehab assignment with Toledo on Tuesday. There is no timetable yet for his return to Detroit.

"He's got to build up," Hinch said. "He's got to build up to be back at this level, so he will start next week."

Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, center, is helped off the field after an injury in the second inning against the Yankees, Sunday, June 5, 2022, in New York.
Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, center, is helped off the field after an injury in the second inning against the Yankees, Sunday, June 5, 2022, in New York.

Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who has been on the10-day injured list since June 7 with a left shoulder subluxation, began his rehab stint with the Mud Hens on Wedesday.

Candelario homered Friday and appears likely to rejoin the Tigers on their upcoming road trip.

"He will play today," Hinch said Saturday. "I'll give him the option of playing tomorrow or not, and then he can take a day off and meet us in Boston.

"In pencil, that's what we hope happens and nothing happens between now and then, but he's doing just fine."

Jose Cisnero, who was rehabbing a right shoulder strain earlier this month and appeared close to a return from the 60-day injured list, suffered a setback with Achilles inflammation. He has begun ramping  up again.

"He played catch, he's going back to Florida when we take off to Boston, we're not going to carry him on the road," Hinch said. "He's throwing on flat ground in the the beloved throwing program."

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Riley Greene had to conquer the U.S. Open to join Detroit Tigers