Greene em­braces fresh tack, clean slate

The Detroit News - - TIGERS - BY CHRIS MCCOSKY The Detroit News

Lake­land, Fla. — Shane Greene will look you in the eye and tell you, straight up, he wasn’t in­jured last sea­son. Yes, he had to shut it down for 10 days last July with a dead arm, and some­times the fin­gers on his pitch­ing hand will still tin­gle and go numb, es­pe­cially on cold days.

But that’s just residue from the neu­ri­tis he’s dealt with since 2015. That had noth­ing to do with his rocky ride last sea­son.

“Just fa­tigue,” he said Fri­day af­ter throw­ing his first bullpen of the spring. “Men­tally and phys­i­cally, last year was a roller-coaster ride for me. I was just as men­tally ex­hausted as I was phys­i­cally at the end of the year.”

The 5.12 ERA, the 4.61 FIP (field­ing in­de­pen­dent pitch­ing), the 1.374 WHIP, the 12 home runs al­lowed in 631⁄3 in­nings, the six blown saves and six losses, the .292 bat­ting av­er­age and .508 slug­ging per­cent­age by right-handed hit­ters, whom he has dom­i­nated over his ca­reer — all paint the bleak pic­ture that 2018 was for the Tigers’ closer.

“Base­ball will hap­pen,” Greene said. “It will hum­ble you. It’ll be nice when some of those home runs turn into fly balls to the warn­ing track.”

It wasn’t all bad. Greene posted 32 saves, which was tied for fourth most in the Amer­i­can League and sev­enth in base­ball, and he had a 3.6-1 strike­out-towalk ra­tio. But when he did hit that prover­bial wall some­time in Au­gust, it didn’t give an inch.

Over his last 25 ap­pear­ances, oppo- nents’ slash-line against Greene was a gaudy .302/.361/.531. He posted a 6.94 ERA and 1.58 WHIP over that span. Be­cause of that late-sea­son fade, he’s changed his off­sea­son ap­proach — dras­ti­cally for him.

“I gave my­self a lit­tle bit more of a break in the off­sea­son,” said Greene, a no­to­ri­ous gym rat in the off­sea­son. “For the first time in my life I feel like I can ac­tu­ally use spring train­ing to get ready, in­stead of get­ting ready for spring train­ing.

“I am kind of us­ing that to my ad­van­tage, and hope­fully that will make my sea­son seem shorter, not longer.”

It had to seem so strange for Greene to wait un­til Feb. 8 to through his first bullpen. And his daily rou­tine go­ing for­ward is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, and take some get­ting used to, as well.

“I do a lot on a daily ba­sis,” he said. “My dis­ci­pline is there be­cause I am in the weight room ev­ery day mak­ing sure I am ready. But at the same time, I am go­ing to change my pro­gram a lit­tle bit. I am go­ing to have more of a set pro­gram.

“Be­fore I would just lis­ten to my body ev­ery day to de­ter­mine what I did that day. This year I am go­ing to sit down and make a set pro­gram — on Mon­day I will do this, on Tues­day I will do this, etc. This way I can make sure I do what I need to do, but not to do too much.”

Re­mem­ber, too, last year was Greene’s first full sea­son as closer. Nei­ther his mind nor body, re­gard­less of how hard he trained both, were ready for the toll that ex­tracted. Think about this: More than half of the Tigers games last sea­son, 83, were de­cided by one or two runs.

That means Greene, as the closer, needed to be warm and ready to go in the ma­jor­ity of those games.

“You don’t re­al­ize how many times you get ready to pitch in the game and you don’t get in,” he said. “As a closer, if we are los­ing by a run, I am get­ting ready. I’ve got to be ready. I wasn’t aware that was go­ing to be a thing as a closer. But now I know.”

He worked in 66 games and he prob­a­bly warmed up with­out be­ing used in at least an­other 10 or more.

“The good news is, we were in a lot of close games. That’s what that means,” he said. “Had we won more of those games, I would’ve pitched in more of them and then I would prob­a­bly have had more days off where Joe (Jimenez) would’ve closed. I learned a lot from last year and I am go­ing to carry it over to this year.”

Whether it was due to the fa­tigue or not, the re­al­ity is, Greene’s reper­toire wasn’t as con­sis­tently nasty as it was in 2017. His spin rate and ve­loc­ity were down on all three of his pri­mary pitches last sea­son. And, cor­re­spond­ingly, dam­age by hit­ters was up on all three.

Greene, if he ever even looked at them, has deleted those num­bers from his mind. It’s a new year and clean slate.

“I try to set goals I can con­trol,” he said. “I can’t con­trol what the score is when I get into a game. I can’t con­trol how many save op­por­tu­ni­ties I get. What I can con­trol is my pitch ef­fi­ciency when I am in there. Not giv­ing up free bases. Last year my goal was to walk less guys than I did the pre­vi­ous year, and I did that. That’s my goal again this year.

“And to make pitches when I need to. Last year I got into some pitcher’s counts and tried to do too much and paid for it a lot.”

Greene, who signed a one-year, $4 mil­lion deal ahead of ar­bi­tra­tion last month, comes to camp as the closer, though Jimenez, an All-Star last sea­son in the setup role, is knock­ing on that door. Greene and Jimenez have formed a tight bond the last two sea­sons. Jimenez is the go-to guy for many of the young Latin pitch­ers and Greene is the dean of the bullpen now.

“I don’t re­ally view my­self as a leader,” Greene said. “I’ve never been that guy. I’ve al­ways been the un­der­dog try­ing to work in the shad­ows. Maybe I lead by ex­am­ple, do­ing what I do on the field.”

Robin Buck­son/Detroit News

Tigers closer Shane Greene’s 32 saves were tied for fourth in the Amer­i­can League and sev­enth in the ma­jors.

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