Detroit — Tigers closer Shane Greene pitched his first clean inning in six outings Saturday night – ground out, fly out, pop out.
He threw seven pitches, all sinkers.
He threw a hanging slider the night before and Jason Kipnis hit it out of the yard, a game-winning, three-run homer.
So, what’s the take-away? Should Greene shelve his slider?
Heck, no, manager Ron Gardenhire says.
“You have to use all your pitches,” Gardenhire said. “His slider is really good when he stays on top of it. When it’s going down, it’s an out pitch. What happens in a closer’s role, any mistake you make gets magnified a thousand times.”
So true, especially in this case.
Greene has allowed six home runs in 32 games this season. He allowed six in 71 games last season. He’s got three blown saves and two losses. The impression is that he’s getting lit up and that the slider has been trouble pitch.
That is not the case.
Two of the six home runs have come off the slider: Kipnis’ blast and Mitch Haniger’s heart-breaking two-run shot in Seattle that ruined the night Francisco Liriano took a no-hitter into the seventh.
Three of the home runs Greene has allowed have come on his sinker, including the two he gave up in the ninth inning against the Rays back on April 30. The other came off a cutter.
But here’s the salient statistic: There have been 80 batted balls off Greene this season (per Statcast), six have been struck with an exit velocity of 95 mph or better – and all six have left the yard. That is almost inconceivable.
“It’s the game of baseball,” Greene said. “Sometimes they leave the yard and sometimes they are caught on the warning track.”
Or, sometimes they all leave the yard.
Greene throws his slider about 30 percent of the time and opponents are hitting .139 against it. But, it hasn’t been the unhittable weapon for him it was last season. According to FanGraphs, his runs above average with the slider last year was 8.5. This year, 0.7.
“He’ll tell you, when he stays on top of it (hand position on the ball), it goes down and it’s great,” Gardenhire said. “But when he gets on the side of it, he gets that spin on it and it backs up. That’s his problem pitch. It’s hit-able.
“When he’s on top of it, it’s not hit-able.”
Hitters are doing more damage off his cutter than his slider – hitting .271 and slugging .561 off it. Greene uses the cutter and slider in tandem, against both right-handed and left-handed hitters.
“I don’t know if they can mess up one or the other,” Greene said. “But I use them off each other, depending on the count and what they’ve seen already.”
There is a 6-mph difference between the cutter and slider, and usually a 5- or 6-mph difference between his fastball and cutter.
If there is a pitch he could throw less, perhaps it’s the cutter. Who can say?
Important to note, though, before giving up the homer to Kipnis, Greene had allowed only a run in his previous eight outings, picking up five saves. It’s a closer’s lot: good outings are expected, bad outings are blown out of proportion.
Greene had worked in three straight games before Sunday. Gardenhire said, if needed, he’ll use him again.
“The guy wants to pitch every day,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got that rubber-arm. I know Shane wants the ball every time. He told me, he’d pitch all 162 if he could.”
The Tigers' backup catcher Sunday was ... Dixon Machado.
John Hicks started the game and James McCann was laying back on the trainer's table, suffering with flu-like symptoms.
"He had the flu bug, a pretty good one," Gardenhire said. "He wasn't even available today. You would've got to see Machie catch today if something had happened."
Machado has not caught since he was 12 years old.
"Whatever," he said afterward. "I can catch it in the warmups; I don't know about in the game."
The Tigers after the game sent reliever Zac Reininger back to Triple-A Toledo and said a corresponding move would be made before the game Tuesday.
Most likely, given McCann's illness, catcher Grayson Greiner will get the call.
Reininger will leave with a sour taste in his mouth. He gave up three runs in the eighth inning, including a 400-plus-foot blast into the visitor's bullpen by Yan Gomes.
Reininger allowed five runs, including two home runs, in five outings, 4.1 innings, in this latest stint with the Tigers.
The Tigers had been carrying an extra pitcher.
Gardenhire said the decision to have Jordan Zimmermann (shoulder) make his third rehab start at Low-A West Michigan on Monday was about logistics. Toledo is on the road (Indianapolis). “We just want to get his pitch count up,” Gardenhire said. “His arm is feeling fine but we need to get his count up to between 70 and 90. It’s not about who he’s facing, it’s about him being healthy.”
… If all goes well, Zimmermann could be back in the Tigers' rotation next weekend at Chicago. Gardenhire said it has yet to be determined who would come out of the rotation to make room for Zimmermann – probably Artie Lewicki.
...Indians catcher Roberto Perez was hit in the hand by a pitch from Drew VerHagen in the sixth inning and left the game. He is expected to see a hand specialist in Cleveland to determine the extent of the damage.