Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Back when it was just pitchers and catchers working out down here, Tigers closer Shane Greene and late-inning set-up reliever Joe Jimenez would partner up for catch-play and long toss.
Jimenez would throw a fastball to Greene, Greene would throw a fastball back. Jimenez would throw a slider to Greene, Greene would throw a slider back. Jimenez would throw a change-up to Greene, Greene would throw a change-up back.
Wait. What? Greene doesn’t throw a change-up, does he?
He does now.
“Right now, I’ve thrown a change-up every time I’ve been out there,” said Greene, who has allowed just three hits in four spring innings. “And I haven’t thrown a change-up in a Major League Baseball game since 2014.”
He was a starting pitcher then, trying to stick in the Yankees rotation. Brooks Baseball, which charts every pitch from every pitcher, says Greene threw 124 change-ups in 2015, his first year in the Tigers’ rotation. But that change-up was clocked at 87-88 mph, which was suspiciously the same velocity he threw his cutter. So, let’s take Greene at his word.
“When I was a starter, I threw some really good ones sometimes and I threw some really bad ones sometimes,” he said. “But for me, if I can get confidence in it, it’s just something else for hitters to think about.
“There’s no secret to what I’m throwing out there. Everybody knows what’s coming. For the most part, I pitch everybody the same way. If I had confidence in a change-up, I have another pitch going the same way as my fastball.”
Greene throws a two-seam fastball (sinker) that has wicked movement, a slider and a cutter.
“I could throw the change-up to right-handed hitters off the fastball,” Greene said. “If they’re cheating to get to the sinker and yank it down the line, I can throw the change-up on the inner half and they will swing over it.”
Opponents hit his sinker at a .291 clip, the highest OBA against that pitch since he became a reliever, with five home runs. So, he’s looking for a way to get hitters off that pitch.
“I kind of brought it up to Rick (Anderson, pitching coach) and he thought it was a good idea, too,” Greene said. “It’s just a matter of executing it. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel out here. But you do have to adapt to the game. The game will let you know if you need to start doing that.
“If I can have another pitch in my back pocket that I have confidence in with the game on the line, why not throw it?”
The confidence isn’t there yet. He’s gotten a checked-swing and three softly hit ground balls off the pitch.
“We’re hoping to maybe strike somebody out so we have some confidence in it,” he said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
When Greene had the pitch in his tool box as a starter, he used it to induce soft contact, to get a quick out or two and preserve his pitch-count. That’s not the plan now.
“I am using the same grip, but it’s a little different thought process for me,” he said. “I never want to throw it for a strike. There’s no reason for me to. If I’m going to throw something for a strike, I am going to throw one of my other pitches.
“But if I can get the change-up down and out of the zone, even if it’s not a swing and miss, they can’t hurt me.”
Greene won’t bring the pitch into the season if he’s not 100 percent sure of this pitch.
“I just need to have confidence to throw it in a game when I already know my slider and cutter can do the job,” he said. “That’s why I am throwing it down here. I am throwing it every time out and every time it’s been with two strikes, trying to get that swing-and-miss punch-out.”
His last two outings, he’s dispatched the inning in 11 pitches and, on Tuesday, six pitches. So, with or without the change-up, Greene is on track.
“I feel good, but if I’m 100 percent honest, I don’t feel completely in rhythm yet,” he said. “But there’s still plenty of time to get there. I’m not worried about it. The ball feels like it’s coming out good, the movement is there.
“Now it’s just about getting consistency.”