Little nicks have Tigers’ Greene bleeding out

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Shane Greene gave up two runs in the Tigers' 5-3 loss Saturday night.

Atlanta – Shane Greene faced four batters in the seventh inning of a 3-2 game Saturday night.

The first hitter lined a single to left. It was the only hard-hit ball against him. And yet, he gave up two back-breaking runs in the Tigers’ 5-3 loss.

“Yeah, he gave up the runs, but look at how the runs were scored,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “The first ball was hit hard, but after that -- bunt, bunt and chopper up the middle. I thought he was throwing the ball fine. His velocity was good.”

The BABIP gods have been mocking Greene recently. In his last 17 outings, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an unsustainable, or so you’d think, .439.

“It’s easy to fall into a pity party and say, ‘When am I going to get some popups to the warning track, or something like that,'” Greene said. “I just have to keep making my pitches and hopefully everything will work out.”

From July 1 through Aug. 13, as Greene was establishing himself as a trustworthy late-inning option for Ausmus, he allowed just three runs over 15 innings, with 16 strikeouts. Opponents hit .170 against him in that stretch.

But, since Aug. 17, he’s been tagged for 20 runs in 18 innings, with opponents are hitting .355 against him.

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“The worst part is, two outings ago was probably the best I felt all year and I still couldn’t get the job done,” Greene said, referencing the two runs he gave up in a 12-9 loss to the Royals. “I just have to keep grinding.”

Greene, with his mid-90s fastball, wipeout slider and nasty mound disposition, is not built to be a pitch-to-contact reliever. Lately, though, more balls are being put in play – thus the high BABIP.

Ausmus points to command issues.

“Sometimes it’s location and getting ahead of hitters that matters more than what the pitch is,” he said.

Greene doesn’t dispute that, but he also thinks he’s become over-reliant on the slider.

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“Right now, (hitters) are just cutting the plate in half and looking away because I haven’t been throwing my fastball that much,” he said. “I am making it easier on them. I’m not missing bats, necessarily, I’m just missing barrels.

“And when that happens, hits are going to happen.”

Greene sat forlornly staring into his locker after the loss Saturday and he was still beating himself up pretty good on Sunday. But, when he has more time to process the season as a whole, he will realize he’s established himself as a vital piece of the Tiger’s bullpen.

“Right this second, I am a little upset with myself,” he said. “I haven’t exactly been successful the last month or so. But it’s a learning process. I’ve still got a lot of learning to do. I really enjoy the role I am in right now.

“I don’t know what the plans are going to be next year or in the future, but we’re not out of this thing yet. We have a chance to win and I’m going to keep doing what I need to do to be ready to pitch.”

Twitter @cmccosky