Tigers' Greene making arsenal deeper with change-up

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Shane Greene pitched three scoreless innings Friday, striking out two.

Lakeland, Fla. — Shane Greene stayed on schedule Monday. After his start in a minor-league game was rained out, he took to the Joker Marchant Stadium cages for a 75-pitch session.

And, obviously, he looked good.

"Five innings of no-hit baseball," manager Brad Ausmus quipped.

"I think he pitched a no-hitter," pitching coach Jeff Jones said.

Uhhh, maybe it's time for some new material, guys?

"He got it from me," Ausmus insisted.

Moving on ...

The big focus for Greene on Monday, as it has been for much of the spring, has been his change-up. It's a pitch that most youngsters are trying to master while they're already in the major leagues — because it's a pitch they rarely need in the minors.

"A lot of times, they're trying to get to the next level as quickly as they can, and they kind of get away from what might be successful at the big-league level," Jones said. "A lot of times, they'll put a pitch on the back burner."

Greene, the 26-year-old right-hander who came to the Tigers in a December trade with the Yankees and Diamondbacks that cost Detroit pitcher Robbie Ray and minor leaguer infielder Domingo Leyba, already has a deep arsenal, without the change-up.

He throws a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a cutter and a slider, as well. In other words, depending on the pitch, Greene can pretty much have the baseball moving any which way he wants — in on a hitter, away from a hitter, down in the zone. Dealer's choice, really.

And that's probably what impresses Jones the most, even more than he was impressed when he saw Greene (5-4, 3.78 ERA in 2014) beat the Tigers twice last summer.

"He's even better up close, watching him throw," said Jones, who monitored Greene's five "innings" closely, standing behind the catcher to watch for pitch-tipping (the change-up is a popular tipped pitch, and young guys like Greene are more susceptible) and standing behind Greene to assess his delivery.

"You can always get a pretty good read on a guy when he pitches against you, but when you stand behind him and watch and see the kind of movement he has and the variety of pitches, he's even better than I thought."

Greene has made three Grapefruit League starts, two poor and one perfect. A bright spot: He hasn't walked anybody; then again, he's only thrown three balls all spring, out of 57 pitches.

Vintage realities

None of us are getting any younger. It happens.

Justin Verlander, 32, and Joe Nathan, 40, in particular, probably wish that wasn't the case. But both appear willing to adjust their games to the realities of life.

Verlander's fastball velocity is down considerably from his 2011 heyday. Jones said it's better this year than last year, but the Tigers still want Verlander to accept he has to work more off the secondary stuff, and that he has the secondary stuff to be dominant again.

There's been some question whether Verlander would be open to that, because Verlander loves to throw hard. But Jones dismisses any concern.

"There's no question," Jones said of Verlander, who is aware of his velocity — he seeks out scouts after spring games to get their readings, since the Joker Marchant Stadium gun is usually hot by a significant margin. "He knows he's getting older, and the older you get, the more you lose off your fastball. He's resigned himself to the fact he's getting older and he is probably gonna have to make some adjustments.

The case is the same for Nathan, who was pretty poor much of last season. So this spring, Jones has him working in more change-ups and sinkers.

Nathan's fastball has had a hard time even reaching 90 mph.

"Normally guys, they're willing to accept the fact they're getting older and they might need to add something, and Joe's no exception to that," Jones said.

Around the horn

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera will be the designated hitter for Tuesday night's game against the Yankees in Tampa, while Victor Martinez will get his at-bats in a minor-league game. If all goes well, both could play in the same Grapefruit League game against the Marlins in Lakeland on Wednesday, with Cabrera playing first base for the first time since ankle surgery.

... Starting-pitching prospect Buck Farmer impressed split-squad manager Gene Lamont on Sunday, but still will get more minor-league seasoning. While Triple A Toledo appears the best best, he might be heading to Double A Erie so he can keep working with pitching coach Mike Henneman.

... Tuesday night's Tigers-Yankees game will be broadcast on MLB Network. Anibal Sanchez starts for Detroit, and Esmil Rogers for New York.

... Former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson will miss Tuesday's game against his hometown Tigers. As a member of the Yankees scouting department, he'll be watching a game at Disney instead.