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Greene locks in with a little help from his friends

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Houston — Tigers reliever Shane Greene leans heavily on the counsel of veteran Francisco Rodriguez, getting the game’s active saves leader’s critique after every outing.

He also leans heavily on the wisdom of pitching coach Rich Dubee.

But when things were at their worst for him earlier this season, it was an unsolicited tip from two of his longtime buddies from Clermont, Florida that helped turn his season around.

“Two of my best friends that I grew up with, who have watched me pitch every inning since I’ve been out of college, they sent me a photo,” Greene said.

It showed two images of Greene’s delivery. One from a horrendous, two-hit, two-walk outing against the Mariners on April 25 and the other from 2014, his second big-league start with the Yankees at Baltimore when he pitched 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball with nine strikeouts.

It was kind of a reverse before and after shot.

“It showed where my shoulders were,” Greene said. “These guys don’t really know the technical side of it, but they just said, ‘This is what we see.’ ”

Clear as day, Greene was throwing from the same arm angle in both shots, but his shoulders were severely tilted in the more recent picture.

“I needed to stay more straight, stay on line and I worked on that,” Greene said. “And everything kind of clicked.”

The shoulder realignment helped get his slider back on track, especially, and Greene’s re-emergence has brought stability to the Tigers bullpen.

“It just deepens our bullpen,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “When he was struggling earlier, we might use him in the sixth, when we were trailing. Now we’re very comfortable sticking him in the game in the seventh, eighth, tie game, short lead, whatever.

“He could probably get us five outs, maybe two full innings depending on his pitch count. … He’s been outstanding for the last 3 1/2 weeks.”

Greene has allowed three runs this season, which itself is praiseworthy. But recently, his outings have been mostly clean and dominant. In his last 10, covering 11 2/3 innings, he’s given up one run (a Mike Trout homer) with 15 strikeouts and just walks. That’s a 0.77 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .171.

Greene, Blaine Hardy, Justin Wilson and Alex Wilson have settled, at least for now, the turmoil that had plagued the back end of the bullpen last month. Since May 1, the Tigers bullpen ranks third in the major leagues in ERA (2.80) and WHIP (1.06). It is fifth in opponents’ average (.202).

“I’ve said from Day 1 that we had a good group of guys down there that pull for each other,” Greene said. “Not only that, but we’re talented and we work hard. So that’s not a surprise to me.”

Greene’s primary pitch is his hard sinker, which he can throw anywhere from 94-98 mph. His command of that pitch has improved significantly, which helps to set up his money pitch — the slider.

Opponents are hitting .039 with a 20-percent whiff rate against his slider, according to Brooks Baseball.

“I think last year, when I kind of got thrown into the fire, I created some bad habits in my mechanics,” Greene said. “Just as far as rushing — just hurrying up to get loose to get into the game. Over the course of the season I created some bad habits — over-striding, over-throwing a little bit.”

He worked through most of that in spring training, but still, his command was spotty and the slider wasn’t biting in early April. That’s when his buddies came through for him.

“The one I’ve known since before I could talk or walk,” Greene said. “The other has been my best friend since 11th grade. It’s good to have good friends like that.”

Over the hill

This is Ausmus’ first visit to Minute Maid Park since Tal’s Hill was removed from center field. The dimensions in center field are now reduced to 409 feet.

Ausmus, who spent 10 seasons in Houston, had some fond memories of the old hill.

“The best triple I ever saw off the hill,” Ausmus said. “Richie Sexton hit a ball — this is when the flag pole was in play out there like it was at Tiger Stadium — he crushed a ball to center and it hit 2/3 of the way up the flag pole.

“It would have been 15 feet over the center field wall. But it hit the pole square and bounced all the way back toward second base for a triple. It must have been 420 to the pole and it would’ve gone 445-450 feet.”

Around the horn

Mikie Mahtook, who got the lone Tigers’ hit Monday, got another start against a right-handed pitcher Tuesday. “I thought he swung the bat well and Tyler Collins is struggling,” Ausmus said. Mahtook, a right-handed hitter who has struggled in the past against right-handed pitching, is hitting righties 106 points better than lefties this year (.267-.161).

… Jose Iglesias returned to the starting lineup after a two-game mental health break. He had a bruise near his left eye. “I rolled over in my sleep and hit my head,” he said, shrugging.

Twitter.com: @cmccosky