Sarasota, Fla. — After his manager made clear he is, officially, in the Tigers rotation, Shane Greene celebrated Wednesday night by pitching more like an ace.
He was that good in the 2-1 nipping of the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
Greene worked 5 2/3 innings, rather effortlessly, allowing three hits — two of them infield hits — while striking out nine, walking one and hitting a batter.
It was splendid work by a right-handed pitcher who is trying to forget a nightmarish 2015 that included circulatory surgery. And it came only a couple of hours after Tigers manager Brad Ausmus ended any suspense by saying Greene would fill a final vacant rotation spot.
“Barring something strange, yeah,” Ausmus said.
Greene was marvelous as he worked mostly with his secondary pitches, highlighted by a slider that accounted for most of his nine wipeouts of Orioles batters.
“I felt a little off the first two innings,” said Greene, who decided to slow down his pace and delivery. “Then I felt my slider come back.”
Ausmus agreed Greene looked a lot like the pitcher who has shaken off a bad 2015 that began neatly before suddenly gave way to injury and struggles.
“We felt like that guy was still there,” Ausmus said. “That his stuff was there.”
Greene did, too.
“I’ve been riding the roller-coaster for so long,” he said in the visitor’s clubhouse afterward. “I’ve gotten good at riding it.”
The Tigers took a definitive Florida travel team — a minimum of high-profile starters — to Sarasota and discovered, mostly due to Greene, they could get by with a pair of runs.
They got their first when James McCann lined an opposite-field drive over the right-field fence for his fourth homer of the Grapefruit League season.
They scored a second run in the fifth on Anthony Gose’s single, an infield hit by Jose Iglesias, and an error on third baseman Manny Machado.
The Tigers used four additional pitchers: Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe, Francisco Rodriguez, and Drew VerHagen.
The Orioles scored a run in the ninth off VerHagen on a walk, a catching indifference advance, and a RBI single.
Greene’s bounce back from last summer’s surgery had made the 27-year-old right-hander a decent bet to help — either in the starting rotation or in the bullpen — a dinged Tigers pitching staff.
His fastball has been cruising at top speed of 97 mph and his numbers heading into Wednesday’s game were strong: 2.63 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in four games and 13 2/3 innings.
The Tigers made the simple and logical choice to go with Greene as their fifth man when Daniel Norris will miss at least part of April with vertebrae fractures. Coupled with Wednesday’s decision to send Boyd to Triple A Toledo, Greene became the natural pick.
Greene’s return to the rotation means he has been reunited with his old job 15 months after the Tigers got him from New York in a three-way trade with the Yankees and Diamondbacks in which Detroit shipped Robbie Ray to Arizona.
Greene began last season as if he intended to win a Cy Young Award. But after a hot early April he steadily slipped and by summer was shipped to Toledo, where it was discovered he had a potentially serious blood clot that had led to discoloration and numbness in his pitching hand.
He had surgery in August and recovered in line with doctors’ forecasts. But the Tigers could not count on him, not with any reliability, when camp convened six weeks ago.
Greene’s strength and pitches appear now to be more in tune with the pitcher he was last April and in 2014, when he most impressed a Tigers team that wanted him badly, and got him in the dramatic three-team swap.