Facing Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, the Tigers’ top prospects — center fielder Riley Greene and first baseman Spencer Torkelson — added to their case for making the Opening Day roster.
Greene opened the bottom of the third inning with a triple to center field, and Torkelson followed with an eight-pitch walk.
“He’s got good stuff,” Torkelson said. “You can see why he’s so elite. It’s only spring training, and his velocity wasn’t quite there, but I was happy with my approach and how I saw his pitches.”
Cole, the 2021 American League Cy Young runner-up, threw six pitches to Greene in the at-bat. The nine-year MLB veteran lost the matchup, as Greene drilled his two-strike 89.1 mph changeup with a 102.3 mph exit velocity.
“Tough at-bat with Gerrit,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s going to come at them with some extra stuff. He’s testing them just like we’re testing them. Great, disciplined at-bat by both of them. You’re not going to face a better pitcher in the big leagues than Cole, so I applaud them for both those at-bats.”
After the third inning ended, Greene was removed from the game (replaced by Eric De La Rosa) and walked down the right-field line with a trainer. He departed with a foot injury.
In the sixth, Miguel Cabrera launched a solo home run off right-handed reliever Chad Green (a former Tigers farmhand), who had a 3.12 ERA in 67 appearances last season.
Cabrera’s first homer of spring training put the Tigers ahead 2-1. The 38-year-old finished 2-for-3 with one RBI and one strikeout and is hitting .250 across eight games in camp.
“He’s peaking at the right time,” Hinch said.
The Tigers’ bullpen conceded five runs in the seventh inning.
Left-hander Tyler Alexander is preparing for Opening Day as a starter — he is tabbed to start April 12 against the Boston Red Sox — but will return to his swingman role out of the bullpen once righty Michael Pineda, set to pitch two innings Saturday, builds up his stamina.
Against the Yankees, Alexander looked like a bona fide starter.
“I love the way he threw the ball,” Hinch said. “This guy doesn’t get the (respect) he deserves of being a really good pitcher in whatever role that we put on him. … Whether he’s a starter or reliever, you just need to start calling him a major-league pitcher because he’s really good.”
The 27-year-old fired four scoreless innings with five strikeouts, tossing 41 of 59 pitches for strikes. His only blemishes were a single by Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the second and a six-pitch walk to Ender Inciarte in the third.
Alexander struck out DJ LeMahieu (looking, 90.2 mph fastball), Aaron Hicks (swinging, 90 mph fastball), Joey Gallo (looking, 89.7 mph sinker), Hicks (swinging, 87.5 mph sinker) and Gleyber Torres (looking, 83.4 mph cutter).
“Quality strikes,” Alexander said. “I threw a lot of front-hip and back-door two-seams (sinkers), which I haven’t thrown a lot of strikes on those this spring. I actually executed a back-door cutter, which was nice. I was changing speeds and hitting my spots.”
For his 59 pitches, Alexander used 21 sinkers (36%), 15 cutters (25%), 13 changeups (22%), six sliders (10%) and four four-seam fastballs (7%). He recorded three swings and misses — one each with his cutter, changeup and four-seamer — and a whopping 15 called strikes, including seven with his sinker and five with his cutter.
Alexander’s fastball averaged 89.4 mph.
At the plate
Greene’s triple in the third inning led to the Tigers’ first run, though the offense missed an opportunity to score multiple runs.
Torkelson and Tucker Barnhart worked back-to-back walks to load the bases with no outs.
“Greeney made my job easy,” Torkelson said. “My approach up there was super-simple, just get the bat on the ball and get something that scores him. But drawing a walk was beneficial, as well, to wear him down and get it to the next guy.”
After a mound visit, Cole retired Akil Baddoo (strikeout) and Victor Reyes (flyout). Javier Baez crushed a changeup down the third-base line, with a 105.5 mph exit velocity, and reached safely on a fielder’s choice, allowing Greene to score for a 1-0 lead.
Cole, a four-time All-Star, allowed one run on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 3⅔ innings.
Baddoo went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
On the mound
Taking over for Alexander, right-hander Drew Hutchison gave up a two-out solo home run to Kyle Higashioka on an 0-2 fastball. The 397-foot homer to right-center knotted the game at one.
Right-hander Jacob Barnes pitched a scoreless sixth. Hutchison and Barnes, along with a few others, are competing for the final spots in the bullpen.
Jason Foley, a hard-throwing righty, allowed two runs (one earned) while only getting two outs in the seventh inning. Righty Elvin Rodriguez replaced him and allowed three runs (none earned), but he got the final out of the inning.
1. Alexander, 2. Cabrera, 3. Barnes.
Saturday vs. Baltimore Orioles in Lakeland.