Greiner continues to state his case for Tigers' back-up catcher role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Grayson Greiner was at the hospital awaiting a CT scan on the night of March 7. His wife and two young children were with him.

Three-year-old Hudson couldn’t quite figure out why daddy looked so different.

“He kept asking what was wrong with my face,” Greiner said Tuesday, able to laugh about it now.

Detroit Tigers catcher Grayson Greiner has bounced back after being beaned. (Photo: Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press)

What happened was, earlier that day he’d taken a 94-mph fastball from Blue Jays reliever Elvis Luciano square in the face. It broke his nose and cost him 10 days of camp. And, as odd as it may sound, he was darn lucky.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Greiner said. “Two inches lower and it could’ve broken my jaw. Two inches higher and it could’ve broken my eye socket. I could’ve been out for the whole season. I’ll take the 10-day break to let my face heal.

“I would say I was more fortunate than frustrated, as far as that goes.”

Greiner, the swelling and bruising in his face no longer noticeable, hasn’t really missed a beat as he competes with Jake Rogers, Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase for the Tigers’ back-up catcher role. You’d have to say, as we hit the home stretch, Greiner is the leader in the clubhouse.

“I’ve been very happy with his overall package,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s been the most consistent of any of the guys.”

Greiner, who hit a home run to center field in Dunedin Monday night, worked all offseason on his swing mechanics and, since he’s been with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, his overall approach at the plate. It was obvious early in camp that he was hitting the ball with more authority, more confidence.

“He’s had good at-bats and been seeing the ball pretty well,” Hinch said. “He’s been able to simplify his swing and cover a really big strike zone (Greiner is 6-foot-6) by selecting the right pitches to swing at. He’s going to have a hard time covering every pitch in every location given the size of his strike zone.

“The more he can simplify and just hit the ball hard, the ball will go. I’ve noticed an uptick in his exit velocity and he’s using the middle of the field better and taking aggressive swings at hittable pitches.”

 Greiner has four hits in nine at-bats with five walks this spring. His first at-bat after being hit in the face was against Yankees fireballer Gerrit Cole.

“I just tried to treat it like any other at-bat,” he said, which had to be easier said than done. “Getting hit was a fluke thing. Just part of the game. Sometimes pitchers lose one up and in and that one got me in a bad spot. I wasn’t scared or anything. I treated it like a normal at-bat.”

Greiner knows, too, that ultimately it will be his catching and how he handles the pitching staff that will win or lose him a roster spot. Hinch has made that clear to all the catchers.

“As a back-up catcher it’s tough,” said Hinch, who spent his playing career in that role. “You sit around for three, four, five days, then you have to face a tough pitcher. The offensive side is always going to be a roller-coaster as a back-up. They key is to handle the pitching behind the plate and be locked in defensively.

“Yeah, we want the offensive production but you can’t mess up the catching. You can’t lose me the game by not being prepared behind the plate. He’s very equipped to handle the job.”

Greiner has been through all of this before. Every year, basically, he’s had to fight for a roster spot. Only once did he win the everyday job and that was 2019. That run was cut short by a back injury.

“It’s a little stressful,” he said of the position battle. “You are fighting for a job, but at the same time you work with the other catchers every day. We’re all friends and it’s a weird dynamic because we’re battling each other for a spot on the big-league club.

“I try not to get caught up in all that. You just come to work every day with a smile on your face ready to work hard.”

You could make the argument that Greiner hit the low point of his career last season. He hit .118 and looked lost. Greiner, though, doesn’t see it that way.

“There are a million people in the world who have it worse than playing Major League Baseball,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a low point. Obviously, I had some struggles as a baseball player. When you realize something is not working, you have to work to change it and get better.

“But we could all have it worse, even if we are having struggles in our profession. I count my blessings every day that I am healthy and I have a healthy family.”

Twitter: @cmccosky