Taking charge: Tigers rookie Greiner starting to assert his authority behind the plate

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – Matt Moore has pitched in 179 games over eight big-league seasons. Grayson Greiner has caught exactly 30 games in the Major Leagues.

But that service time differential became completely irrelevant in the third inning Saturday. Moore, who had been cruising along, walked the leadoff hitter in the third inning on five pitches. Then he threw ball one to the next batter.

Grayson Greiner

Greiner called timeout and jogged to the mound.

“I’ve gotten to know Matt pretty well and I felt comfortable going out there,” Greiner said. “I just said, ‘Hey, we put up a three-spot (in the bottom of the second), attack these guys.’ His stuff is good enough, if he’s throwing strikes, he’s going to get a lot of weak contact, a lot of swings and misses.”

Message delivered, message received. Moore got the next three outs in 12 pitches, seven of them strikes. He then blew through the fourth inning on nine pitches, with two strikeouts.

“It doesn’t have much to do with where I’m at in my career and where he’s at,” Moore said. “It’s just pretty basic. When you throw four or five balls in a row, you go out and try to change the setting. He did a great job back there.

“A lot of those strikes, I am getting them because he’s catching the ball so good. They’re good pitches, but they are tough to handle on that side of the plate. He did a fantastic job keeping me ahead in counts.”

Yes, it is standard operating procedure for the catcher, regardless of age and service time, to be in charge behind the plate. But it’s not always a comfortable situation for a young catcher. James McCann went through the same growing pains in his first full season with the Tigers.

Being assertive with a mostly veteran pitching staff isn’t something that would come naturally for most young catchers, Greiner included.

“He has to be in charge out there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s been talked to, just put it that way – me talking to our catching instructor (Steve Liddle) about taking charge. All the catchers, don’t wait on us to yell at you to go out there.

“If you see something, if you got a feel for that, he’s misfiring or doing something mechanical that you can see, just go out there and stop the process. Tell him. I don’t give a crap about the mound visits. I don’t care. When you see something going haywire, go out and stop it.”

Greiner, who is expected to be the Tigers’ everyday catcher this season, has steadily gotten more comfortable with that and other aspects of his craft. He had a heck of a day Saturday. He threw out speedy Pedro Reyes trying to steal second base. And he had two hits, including an RBI double and a single off Pirates starter Chris Archer.

Both hits went to the opposite field – by design.

“The last two games, I’ve had men on second and now outs,” Greiner said. “I’m just trying to shoot the ball that way and get the man over. I was lucky both times, they had the shift on. I’ve been a little late (with his swing) and I found holes those last two times.

“In those two at-bats, it was a concentrated effort (to hit the ball to the opposite field), trying to get the guys over. But I don’t know if my bat is a little slow and I am late, I don’t know what the deal is.”

The deal is, Greiner is hitting .360 this spring with a 1.101 OPS, and seven RBIs. Being able to use the whole field, and not being so pull-oriented, has been a boon for him.

“I’ve been fortune enough to watch Miggy in batting practice a lot this spring,” Greiner said.

Casey Mize and Grayson Greiner

Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, not accidentally, has had Greiner in Miguel Cabrera’s hitting group most of the spring. Cabrera’s daily routine is to hit ball after ball to the right side of the field.

“Almost every day, the guy barely pulls the ball in BP and he’s a Hall-of-Famer,” Greiner said. “So, just trying to do what he does.”

Gardenhire pitched a round of batting practice to Greiner on Friday and noticed how well he was driving the ball to right field.

“We were working on that with him and Christin Stewart,” Gardenhire said. “The whole drill was to let the ball get deeper in the zone instead of jumping out.  Don’t jump at the ball. Be patient and let the ball get a little deeper to the plate and then using the field like that.”

Gardenhire said, too, there was a method to McClendon’s madness in terms of his hitting groupings.

 “He wants them to be around guys, where you can pay attention to them, a right-handed hitter, see what he does,” he said. “And then Miggy talks to those kids. He talks to them an awful lot. That’s really important for them to listen.

“More than anything, though, (assistant hitting coach) Phil Clark was working with him on not jumping. Not trying to rush when you think a guy throws hard. You can’t jump out and go meet him. You have to let it happen and trust your hands. Grayson did that really well.”

The Tigers took a leap of faith when they decided not to tender a contract to McCann, who subsequently signed with the White Sox. To this point, Greiner has done nothing but validate that faith.  

Twitter @cmccosky