Detroit Tigers outfielder Matt Vierling, who has been playing more third base recently to expand his defensive versatility, feels like his on-field performance embodies both heart and hustle.
“I’ve always been that type of player,” Vierling said. “You play at one speed, and you give everything you got.”
That’s why Vierling is proud to be one of 30 individual team winners of the 2023 Heart and Hustle Award, announced Aug. 3 by the MLB Players Alumni Association. The overall winner will be announced in mid-November on MLB Network.
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The Heart and Hustle Award, voted on before the All-Star break by former players, honors one player from each team for demonstrating passion on the field and embodying the values and traditions of the game.
“That carries you through those tough times,” Vierling said. “You try to be the same guy throughout those tough times, and when things are going good, try to stay the same. I think that’s the only way to play the game. When you do that stuff, when you really play at one speed, you find those extra hits.”
Those “extra hits” have resulted in a .272 batting average. As for the rest of Vierling’s production, the 26-year-old has seven home runs, 25 walks (7.1% walk rate) and 65 strikeouts (18.5% strikeout rate) over 91 games in his first season with the Tigers. In all, he has a 99 OPS+ (with 100 on the scaled stat signifying a league-average hitter).
The Tigers acquired Vierling, who has played in parts of three MLB seasons, from the Philadelphia Phillies in an offseason trade, along with infielder Nick Maton and catcher Donny Sands.
His style of play — heart and hustle — was reinforced in the Phillies’ organization. The Phillies drafted Vierling in 2018’s fifth round out of Notre Dame, where he played three college seasons.
“They really emphasized that type of stuff,” Vierling said. “Got to the big leagues, and it really didn’t change. That’s how we were taught, and that’s kind of how I’ve always played, too.”
In spring training, the Tigers had conversations about giving Vierling opportunities to play third base throughout the regular season, as well as all three outfield positions. He didn’t get consistent reps at the hot corner, however, until August.
In August, Vierling has started five of his eight games at third base. He started the other three in right field, left field and center field. So far, Vierling hasn’t made an error in 43 innings — and 16 chances — at third base.
“I love it,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “I love the initial read. He’s fearless, which is a good start. He was an infielder coming up before he was an outfielder, so that helps some of the natural transition back. He has some natural actions, and he’s never afraid of the ball. … His actions and his fundamentals are pretty rock solid.”
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His best play occurred in Wednesday’s 9-5 win against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. He darted toward the third-base line and made a diving stop to keep the ball from getting into the outfield.
After the pick, Vierling jumped to his feet and fired the ball across the diamond to first baseman Spencer Torkelson. His throw beat Carlos Correa, who put the ball in play with a 100.9 mph exit velocity, by less than a step.
“He hit it pretty hard down the line,” Vierling said. “I had to take a step or two and slid to go get it. Really, the only thing going through my mind was get it over there as fast and as quickly as I can. Just get up and throw it, and hopefully, it’s on line.”
His play showed hustle, and his reaction showed heart.
Vierling smacked his throwing hand into his glove in celebration of the first out in the sixth inning. The Tigers went on to win, 9-5.
“I’m feeling good,” Vierling said. “It’s August. I’m trying to keep the grind going. I’m trying to have good at-bats. Baseball is baseball. You’re going to have good days and bad days, especially around this time. But I’m trying to get into a groove and help the team on the field in any way I can.”
Contact Evan Petzold at epetzo[email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers’ Matt Vierling’s secret to playing during ‘tough times’