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Tigers' Greene trying not to overthink things

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Bradenton, Fla. — Some pitchers seem to remember every pitch they ever threw a big-league batter. Max Scherzer, the former Tigers star, was a master at recall.

And then there is Shane Greene, the new Tigers starter, who was sharper than his linescore in Wednesday night's Tigers-Pirates game at McKechnie Field.

"A lot of times I don't even know who's in the box unless I hear it over the loudspeakers," Greene said after he had thrown 32/3 innings in his third Grapefruit League start of 2015. "Sometimes I get so locked in I only know if he's a lefty or a righty."

On an 81-degree night in Bradenton, Greene allowed four hits, three runs (two earned), struck out five, and walked none in a game that saw the Pirates slip past the Tigers, 8-7.

Greene had a two-seam fastball the Pirates tended to smack into McKechnie Field's baked dirt and turf, a change-up that he is working particularly hard to corral, and a cutter-and-or-slider that behaved — generally.

"Some good sliders," Greene said, "but there was one that went about 500 feet."

That would be the butterfly of a pitch Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez sent soaring beyond the fence in deep-right center in the second inning that gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

But it was his only ugly moment Wednesday. The Pirates might have gotten four hits against Greene. But one was on a ground ball to right, and another came on a chopper that tipped Greene's glove and ended as an infield hit.

"He was good," said manager Brad Ausmus after the Tigers and Pirates met before the biggest crowd (9,018) in the 90-plus years spring training games have been played in Bradenton.

"His slider was the best we've seen to date. It was the best his change-up has been. And his two-seamer had good sink that enabled him to get some ground-ball outs. But his off-speed pitches were the best we've seen all spring."

There was no scoreboard radar gun at McKechnie. But the handful of four-seamers Greene threw appeared to have out-gunned the 91 mph one website recorded.

It didn't matter to Greene, 26, who came to the Tigers in December in a three-way deal that sent Robbie Ray and infield prospect Domingo Leyba to the Diamondbacks.

Greene on Wednesday was concentrating on his change-up, saying: "I knew going into the season it was one of the things I was going to work on."

It's a matter of comfort, he said. And focus.

That latter point — focus — is at the heart of a pitcher's development and no doubt explain in part why Tigers scouts were impressed and why a team wanted Greene for its 2015 rotation.

"When I'm out there, I have these checkpoints," he said, choosing not to detail how his mental blueprint works.

Greene says some minor-league struggles convinced him to retool his psychological plan.

"I was a big thinker," he said, explaining why he now tries to "black out" against hitters, avoiding even consciousness about the hitter's name, as he fixates on his pitch and location.

Greene appeared early Wednesday evening to be winning the mental – and physical – games against Pittsburgh.

He had a strikeout and two ground-outs in a 1-2-3 first. In the second, he struck out leadoff batter Neil Walker.

He nearly had the next batter, Starling Marte whiffed, until a tipped pitch and a marginal umpire's call on a checked swing preceded Marte's single to right.

Then, with two out, he made his "one bad pitch" against Sanchez.

"I leaked it a little," he said of the lamentable slider to Sanchez. "I tried to get it off the plate so he'd chase it, and it stayed over the plate."

In the third, Greene had another 1-2-3 inning on two more ground-outs and a fly ball to center. In the fourth, a tipped chopper turned into a Marte single.

Marte later scored, after Greene had departed with a pitch-limit. A passed ball on a strikeout and a wild pitch by Alberto Cabrera led to an unearned run.

"I felt really good," Greene insisted on a night when his pitch repertoire was probably more impressive than his numbers. "I just wish I could have one pitch back."

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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