Riley Greene, injured Detroit Tigers converge on Toledo while rehabbing

TOLEDO, Ohio — Down in the bottom level at Fifth Third Field, the 21-year-old outfielder who happens to be considering the future of the Detroit Tigers had to be honest.

“I’m feeling good, but I’m not feeling like I want to feel,” Riley Greene said. “That comes with just playing more games and getting more at-bats.”

Greene is back playing baseball, which is the first step. That alone feels like an exhale after two months of trying to pass the time at the Tigers’ complex in Lakeland, Fla., unable to bear weight on his right foot. Ever since a foul ball hit his foot and subsequent X-rays revealed a fracture, things have been difficult for Greene. He admitted he was emotional after an offseason of hard work, after a successful spring training, as a lifelong dream was finally within reach. Greene had not yet been informed he was making the major-league roster as spring training neared its end, but that news would have been coming soon.

“I thought I felt pretty good, was feeling good up at the plate, and then something like that happens,” Greene said.

Instead of heading north with the Tigers — back when everyone was still under the influence of spring optimism — Greene spent the rest of his spring recovering from injury. That meant rehab exercises in the pool and the AlterG treadmill. Moreover, it meant passing the hours playing video games, so many free hours that Greene bought a new gaming laptop. The surplus of downtime meant hitting the chain restaurants around Lakeland — Chick-fil-A, Chipotle and Starbucks. Greene’s family would make the quick drive from the Orlando area about once a week to help keep him company. And all the while, he watched every Tigers game, keeping tabs on close friend Spencer Torkelson, surely wondering from time to time what things might be like if he hadn’t fouled that ball off his foot.

“I didn’t know if I was gonna make the team or not,” Greene said Tuesday, downplaying the idea. “That being said, I’m here and I’m excited to be playing again. I’m very grateful I’m back on the field.”

Instead of Detroit, Greene is in Toledo. Because he was never placed on the MLB roster, he’s not technically on a rehab assignment, even though everyone knows that’s what this is. Greene didn’t need much time to get back in a groove. He hit a homer and a single in his second game back.

But after a two-month layoff, Greene said he still needed time to acclimate to baseball shape.

“Being back in games, it’s a different toll on your body,” Greene said. “Just trying to get my legs back under me was big, and I’m feeling pretty good now.”

Greene was hitting .278 entering Wednesday. Tuesday against the Iowa Cubs, Greene went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored. He also had a terrific running catch in center, showing the type of instincts the Tigers have been lacking in the majors.

The box score looks great, but the tape shows there’s a bit to go before Greene is all the way back to himself. The left-handed hitter with the sweet swing was rolling his wrists and missed a couple of hitters’ pitches. It’s a small sample, but since his return, Greene is hitting a lot of groundballs, one small sign he’s not ready to hit in the majors, even though he says his foot feels at or close to 100 percent.

“As a hitter, when you’re feeling good at the plate, you want to keep playing in games and hitting,” Greene said. “When you can’t get that feeling back, it’s hard. It’s hard, and you know you’re trying to fight for that feeling back, and sometimes you can’t get it back. But I’m working my way up, trying to figure it out, and the feeling is starting to come back now.”

There’s no set date for his return, though the Tigers have a couple of potential targets in mind. But Greene is only one of the looming reinforcements the Tigers desperately need. A few others were on display Tuesday in Toledo.

“Are you here to see the Tigers 2.0?” one player asked before the game.

Tuesday’s Mud Hens lineup featured what should have been the Tigers’ Opening Day outfield in Greene, left fielder Akil Baddoo and right fielder Robbie Grossman.

Grossman, who was hitting .199 with zero home runs in the majors this year, belted his first long ball of the year in his first rehab at-bat. He’s working back from a neck injury, and the hope is he shouldn’t miss too much time.

Baddoo, meanwhile, was sent down after a difficult start in his first 50 at-bats, hitting only .140. But what was supposed to be a short tune-up turned into an elongated stretch away from the big-league spotlight. Baddoo fought through an illness shortly after being sent down, then ended up pulling an oblique. He went to the injured list on May 21, then began his rehab in High-A West Michigan, where he went 0-for-10 before getting moved back to Toledo. Tuesday night, Baddoo showed glimpses of the electrifying player who rocked Detroit in 2021. He reached base three times — two walks and a pull-side line-drive single — and also stole two bases, his always-too-big helmet wobbling on his head even in a different setting.

“This helmet is actually a little too big, but it managed to stay on my head,” Baddoo said of his second stolen base. “It stayed on enough to where it actually helped. The guy (at second base) was touching my helmet, but he ended up dropping the ball. I was supposed to be out, but I was safe.”

Baddoo has a long list of little things to work on before he will be called back to the majors. For starters, he has eliminated a toe-tap mechanism in his swing he implemented this offseason, trying to simplify things and get back to the player he was last year.

“I learned from when I got that call, going into (AJ Hinch’s) office, saying I was coming down here,” Baddoo said. “I want to come down here and be that Baddoo, that spark that I had last year and in spring training going into this year, as well. That’s my main goal, is to be that guy again, and that’s what I’m gonna be.”

Akil Baddoo. (Allison Farrand / Detroit Tigers)

The Toledo lineup also featured outfielder Victor Reyes, who is working his way back from a right quad injury suffered on his first day back from the IL with a left quad injury. Reyes went 0-for-3 on Tuesday.

Left-hander Tyler Alexander, coming back from a left elbow sprain, pitched two innings of scoreless relief, bounding down the hallway after the game in his usual goofy mood.

And more players are waiting in the wings. José Cisnero, the hard-throwing reliever who suffered a shoulder injury in spring training, watched from the dugout. He’s scheduled to pitch Thursday in Toledo, along with Eduardo Rodriguez, who has been traveling with the Tigers’ MLB club despite being on the IL with a left ribcage injury.

The Tigers have sent so many players to Toledo that manager Lloyd McClendon has had the difficult task of configuring each day’s lineup.

Austin Meadows finished his rehab assignment (vertigo) the day before the Tigers 2.0 began playing in Toledo. Meadows has quickly rejoined the Tigers lineup, going 2-for-7 in two games against the Pirates. That means one player is back to health, but there are many more to go. Many injured Tigers are spending this week in an unfamiliar setting.

Tuesday night at Fifth Third Field, Grossman walked out of the Mud Hens’ clubhouse and headed down the dimly lit hall. A few people laughed as he turned toward a fellow player and asked: “How do you get to the parking lot?”

While Tigers fans await Greene’s debut, growing more impatient by the inning, another interesting prospect is also making his way back. Ryan Kreidler, the swift infielder who hit 22 homers in the minors last year and did nothing but impress in spring training, has been out since April 27 with a fractured right hand.

The fracture sounded brutal at first, enough to dash any hopes Kreidler had of debuting in the majors in 2022. Kreidler underwent surgery, but sooner than anyone expected, he was back swinging a bat and playing in the field.

Kreidler was activated May 27, but pain in his hand recurred after only two games. He hasn’t played since and said he’s not setting a timetable for his return just yet. The hand is surgically repaired, so there’s no worry about reinjury. It’s mostly about pain tolerance at this point. So Kreidler remains in Toledo, watching and waiting.

“I wouldn’t have come up here had we thought there would be a speed bump that would take me out of games,” Kreidler said. “I thought we’d all come up here and it’d just be smooth sailing, get right into playing every day, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. You guys know me, you know I want to play. But just got to take care of the health side of it and make sure that it isn’t something that just keeps on lingering.”

Kreidler, too, knows a call to Detroit could be in the not-too-distant future. But first, he has to get healthy. The road to Detroit runs through Toledo.

“I think as much as you guys, I understand what’s on the other side of this thing,” Kreidler said. “Obviously that’s a dream. Having to put all that stuff on pause and not being able to be with the teammates… as much as that sucked, it’s just been great to be up here being with the guys again.”

(Top photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)


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