Henning: Tigers pitcher Greene is thankful for his second act
Detroit — Driving along a Metro Detroit thoroughfare late last spring, Shane Greene mindlessly placed his right hand against his face.
He felt numbness in his fingers.
“I couldn’t feel ‘em,” he said Thursday, speaking at Comerica Park, as the Tigers convened for three days of Winter Caravan trips and TigerFest appearances.
Greene shook off the tingle and headed for Comerica Park. But as a baseball season continued to disintegrate, mysteriously, sending him to the minors following an almost-perfect April debut for the Tigers, Greene decided trainers and doctors needed to know about those finger sensations.
He was diagnosed on Aug. 23 with a pseudoaneurysm in his right hand. Four days later he had surgery in Dallas to repair the circumflex artery in his right (throwing) shoulder.
Five months later he is on schedule to pitch in 2016.
“One hundred percent healthy,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Thursday. “If he comes back and does what we originally thought he could do, it would like finding a brand new free-agent pitcher.”
The update is upbeat. But it makes too little of a frightful time in the life of a 27-year-old pitcher who had been expected to give the Tigers rotation a boost in 2015, and who early on did, all before blood clots began forming in his shoulder and descending, dangerously, until they settled in his fingers.
“It was a freak thing,” Greene said, sitting at a table between a new teammate, reliever Mark Lowe, and the Tigers center fielder he got to know last season, Anthony Gose. “I had a dead arm, but you get that, anyway, during most seasons.
“It turns out I was getting zero blood to my fingers. I really didn’t notice, until the numbness, and then my fingers started getting black and blue.”
Doctors explained to Greene this account, which he repeated Thursday in such rapid and specific language one knows how many times he has been asked about an event that ended his season last August.
Aneurysms are localized bulges of blood within an artery. In Greene’s case the aneurysm caused surrounding shoulder muscles to contract when Greene threw a pitch.
Reflexively, his body would send blood clots to the aneurysm in a bid to naturally make repairs. But as Greene continued to throw, blood clots in fact were being pushed into his blood stream.
And then they began their dangerous journey. Perhaps fortunately for Greene, the path ended in his fingers.
“If the blood clot goes the other direction and toward the heart,” Greene said, darkly, “then obviously there could be a problem.”
He had a two-hour procedure during which vascular surgeon Gregory Pearl entered his right shoulder below the armpit and repaired the damaged artery. Greene remained in the hospital for two more days.
He has been on a steady rehab program in the months since. Twice he has thrown off a mound. He is expected to be at nearly full throttle when Tigers pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18 to Lakeland, Fla.
Looking to bounce back
Greene still isn’t sure to what extent last season’s circulatory scare affected his 2015 work.
But it is impossible for him, or for anyone acquainted with Greene’s skills, to believe a 6.88 ERA in 18 games (11.05 ERA in June, 12.27 in July) wasn’t seriously tied to a condition so debilitating.
Greene says nothing along the way was ignored or misdiagnosed.
“It’s so rare,” he said of a condition that until late last summer never clearly identified itself, to him or to doctors. “And there’s really no telling how or when it developed. There’s no way to put a timetable on when it happened.
“But, obviously, I was struggling. And maybe that was the answer.”
Greene had looked during his first three starts of 2015 as perhaps the most larcenous of any deal made by former Tigers front-office chief Dave Dombrowski.
In his first start of the season, against, the Twins, Greene pitched an eight-inning, four-hit shutout. He followed five days later with eight innings of scoreless, three-hit work against the Pirates.
His next start, April 19 against the White Sox, saw Greene finally allow a run. But it was unearned. And the Tigers won, 9-1.
That three-way trade in late 2014, which had sent former Tigers prospect Robbie Ray to the Diamondbacks as the Tigers pulled Greene from the Yankees, was looking so strong, at least one national critic wondered if the Tigers had a Cy Young Award possibility in Greene.
The next 41/2 months would turn from buoyant to abysmal. But now, if for no other reason than he is free from something so dangerous and disabling, Greene believes he’ll be something closer to the Greene a team from Detroit so eagerly traded for 13 months ago.
“I was just interested in getting back,” he says of a man’s keenest thought these past five months. “I’m ready to compete.”