Boston – Finally. Some comfort in Shane Greene’s big-league life.
He is sizzling in his (largely) seventh-inning relief stints, with no runs allowed in his last seven games, and an 0.93 ERA spanning his last 11.
“No question, some (pitchers) are wired to be competitive over a long period of time, and some like to blow it out over an inning,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team was itching for a sweep of the Red Sox as the Tigers got ready for a Wednesday game at Fenway Park at 1:35 p.m. “I think he’s comfortable pitching an inning, or four outs, knowing a game’s tied or he’s got a short lead.”
He sat in the visitor’s clubhouse Wednesday morning, kibitzing with Ian Kinsler, before taking a break to talk about his pleasing new job as a pure reliever.
“I like it a lot,” said Greene, 27, and a right-hander who was the Tigers’ prize in a three-way 2014 trade that sent then-Tigers property Robbie Ray to the Diamondbacks. “I think it plays into my personality pretty well. I can flip the on-or-off switch. There’s an adrenalin rush.”
Greene is one part of a bullpen back end that witnessed a major event in Tuesday’s 9-8 trimming of the Red Sox: Bruce Rondon pitched an incendiary inning of relief, throwing 100- and 101-mph fastballs the Red Sox barely touched matched by a slider that, as Ausmus said, in the peak form Rondon displayed Tuesday means “a right-handed batter has no chance.”
The Tigers will wait and see on Rondon. He has teased them before only to run into bumps. But the Tigers likewise know Rondon, at 25, and with Tommy John surgery two years in his past, could finally be bolting together a pitching arsenal that is more than formidable.
Greene’s timeline has been slightly less erratic but has also had its downers.
A year ago he was about to have arterial surgery for a blood clot in his right arm that ruined his 2015 season. He was then a starter. The Tigers weren’t sure how he would best fit in 2016 after doctors gave him the go-ahead to work fulltime on a pitching staff that needed him desperately, in whatever capacity.
It seems the bullpen is particularly cozy. And that’s not a huge surprise to the Tigers or to Ausmus.
“We thought his stuff would play up,” Ausmus said, meaning a fastball that hit 93-94 mph during Greene’s longer-inning starts would likely jump to 95-96 in tighter relief shifts.
“And it has,” Ausmus said. “His fastball has good sink, and he’s got a couple of breaking balls.”
Greene repeats that it’s “adrenalin” and not a matter of pushing any particular throttle as he puts away hitters. It’s the excitement of a single inning. The delineated challenge of wiping out three hitters.
“Most relievers are accustomed to riding the emotional roller-coaster,” he said, speaking of last year’s ills, this year’s uncertainty, and a newfound gratification and freedom he finds in a back-end relief role. “I just want to pitch. But I like this role.”
Greene, Rondon, and Francisco Rodriguez (29 saves) have put a different light on Detroit’s back-end corps, which for so many seasons has been a fragile, if not deflating, region of the Tigers roster.
But it’s showing signs of evolving. And no one need tell Ausmus, or his bosses, what a difference that could make as the Tigers, who are 5-1/2 games behind the first-place Indians, contemplate a possible August-September push for the playoffs.
Ausmus was dealing Wednesday with a lineup hole that had nothing to do with his bullpen. Cameron Maybin was to miss another start as he nurses a posterior rib problem. He’s expected to be ready at some point this weekend as the Astros hit Comerica Park for a three-game series.
On an unrelated 25-man roster matter, the Tigers also confirmed reliever Drew VerHagen will have thoracic outlet surgery and will be gone for the remainder of the season. He’s expected to be healed in time for spring camp in 2017.