Detroit — When he said farewell to his 2018 season during an at-bat Tuesday night at Comerica Park, Miguel Cabrera indirectly and unwittingly extended an invitation.
It was handed to young players who now have a better shot at making a splash during the team’s remaining 90-plus games: Niko Goodrum, Ronny Rodriguez, John Hicks —and, the front office has confirmed, a young catcher named Grayson Greiner.
Hicks will be playing more regularly at first base now that Cabrera is gone with his ruptured biceps. That opens the door for more backup work behind the plate, which brings Greiner into focus.
The Tigers want to see what Greiner can do during a longer span in Detroit. Do they have more than bench help in a 25-year-old catcher, who is 6-foot-6, and whose nubbed single past first base was a big eighth-inning hit in Wednesday night’s 5-2 comeback conquest over the Twins.
“We like him,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said Thursday as the Tigers got ready for a 1:10 p.m. series wrap-up against the Twins. “He calls a good game.
“He’s quiet,” Gardenhire said, using a word he would repeat in multiple references to Greiner. “You don’t really notice him a lot. But he gives (pitchers) a nice target. There’s not a lot of shaking.
“For a big guy, it’s not as easy to get low. But he’s quiet. And you like that.”
Gardenhire’s context for “quiet” is that Greiner creates no commotion, no discomfort, no drama as he sets up behind the plate. He does not draw attention or unease. This is news, in that catchers of his altitude historically have never made it as big-league regulars.
Greiner has heard the same warnings. All his life.
“I got up to 6-5 in the ninth grade,” Greiner said Thursday as he took a break in the Tigers clubhouse, “and ever since then, all I heard was, ‘He’s got to move to first base. He can’t catch with that height.’
“I kind of took it as a personal challenge. All I’ve ever known is catching. I didn’t know I’d be 6-6.”
Gardenhire isn’t worried. Nor are the Tigers, who made him a third-round draft pick in 2014 as Greiner was finishing his junior year at the University of South Carolina.
He had hot and cold seasons during his farm seasons with the Tigers, but was shipped to Triple-A Toledo at the start of 2018 and a month later was in Detroit.
In a whopping nine games, and 30 at-bats, Greiner is batting .267, with a pair of doubles. He might have grinned, sheepishly, Thursday when he was reminded of Thursday’s squib single, but he can do more than hit pitches off the end of his bat for freak singles.
"He put some really good swings on the ball in Texas,” Gardenhire said, referring to Greiner’s May big-league debut, which featured an instant line single to left. “He ripped it.
“He’s a talented kid.”
It all depends, of course, on how that batting average and slugging percentage develop. If they do, the Tigers perhaps have a starter evolving. If not, backup work is his probable option.
The Tigers have no idea how it will unfurl. But because of Tuesday night’s events, Greiner and others will get during these coming weeks and months a long, hard look.