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Grunting and groaning: Tigers' Zack Godley bringing the noise in bid for roster spot

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Facing right-hander Zack Godley is uncomfortable enough in a normal environment with normal ballpark noise and ambiance. He never quite gives you the sense that he knows where his pitches are going.

“Wildly effective,” is how he put it Friday after he struck out two in a pair of scoreless innings in the Tigers’ intrasquad game.

But put him in a silent stadium and hitting against him takes on another level of distraction. The thing is, Godley grunts and snorts and groans on every pitch, and in a cavernous stadium with no competing noise, it can get a little hairy.

Zack Godley

Poor Jonathan Schoop was flummoxed in his at-bat in the fifth inning.

Godley grunted and threw a breaking ball that bounced 10 feet in front of the plate. He grunted louder and threw a fastball that Schoop fouled off. Finally, on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, he released maybe his loudest grunt of the at-bat ahead of probably his slowest off-speed pitch.

Schoop, reacting to the intensity of the groan, swung way too early.

“He’s always done that,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, who was the bench coach in Arizona in 2017 when Godley posted the best season of his career. “He grunts, he groans and misses just enough to make people uncomfortable.”

More: Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo, Isaac Paredes among Tigers put on injured list

Godley, whom the Tigers signed as a non-roster invitee in February, says his grunting is organic and not any kind of purposeful deception.

“I’m not Zack Greinke,” said Godley of his former teammate in Arizona and perhaps the most famous grunter in baseball. “I can’t do that. He has it down to an art. Honestly, he’ll grunt when he pitches but he’ll also yell when he messes up – like before the ball even gets to the plate.

“For me, it’s just trying to release air and put everything I can on the ball.”

Command issues derailed his career in Arizona (he led the National League in hit batsmen and wild pitches in 2018). But with Daniel Norris on the injured list for an unknown length of time, Godley is among three or four pitchers who could sneak a rotation spot.

“The year I spent in Arizona, he was one of the best pitchers in the league,” Gardenhire said. “We had Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke, but other teams would say when they faced Godley they hated it. He’s just wild enough and misfires just enough that guys were afraid.”

Godley has altered his delivery and his stride in attempt to misfire less often. He has an elite curve ball, a pitch that has sudden and drastic biting action. But his inability to command either his fastball or his cutter has lessened the effectiveness of the pitch.

He spent a good portion of the shutdown in South Carolina throwing to Tigers’ catcher Grayson Greiner and he said he’s gotten much more comfortable with his new mechanics.

“Yeah, when I can get my fastball and cutter consistently in the zone, then I can throw my curve off it,” he said. “I have to be able to make hitters honor my fastball.”

And as for worrying that his grunting might tip his pitches, forget it.

“If a guy can pick up my grunt intensity for a fastball versus a curve ball, I need to tip my hat,” he said. “That would be impressive.”

Ivan Nova

Game bits

Veteran starter Ivan Nova said he didn’t throw too much during the three-month break, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any rust Friday. He cruised through 3.1 innings on 34 pitches, allowing just one hit. “He knows how to pitch,” Gardenhire said. “He knows how to move the ball around and change speeds. He just really looks like he’s enjoying the game when he’s out there.”

… Conversely, Tigers prospect Matt Manning looked, well, his age. The 22-year-old struggled to find his curve ball and his overall command. He worked out of a jam in the first inning, but allowed a single and three straight walks in a 27-pitch second inning – in which he recorded just one out. “Probably just a little jumpy, a little too aggressive right now,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve seen him throw enough, with that angle (he’s 6-foot-6), the ball really comes out of his hand and he has a good curve ball – he’s got it all. He has a chance to be a really good one.”

… Harold Castro continues to be the scourge of camp pitchers. He produced two more hits and a walk Friday. He’s now 6 for 9 in three games. He also made a tremendous diving, backhanded play at second base on a hard-hit ball by Riley Greene and turned it into a 4-6-3 double-play.

… Left-hander Gregory Soto, who has a chance to work high-leverage situations out of the bullpen this season, has simplified his delivery, taking out a lot of the moving parts that may have contributed to his inconsistent command last season. “When you throw 97 mph, you don’t really need to trick too many people,” Gardenhire said. “Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) pounded it into his head to just get back to taking a basic little slide step and go.” Soto threw a scoreless 12-pitch inning with eight strikes.

… Greene, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, got the start in right field Friday and went 0-for-2 with a walk. But the experience he’s soaking up being around the veteran players may be incalculable. “Me and Derek Hill were watching Miggy in the cage today,” he said, referring to Miguel Cabrera. “We were just watching. Weren't talking, doing anything. We were just watching what he was doing, where he was hitting the ball. I learned a lot from the 15 minutes just watching him."

… The Tigers made official the signing of four undrafted free agents, all right-handed pitchers: Nick Davila, University of South Florida; Wilmer Flores, Arizona Western College; Chris Mauloni, Jacksonville University; and Gabriel Sequeira, Texas Wesleyan. Flores is the younger brother of the Wilmer Flores, who plays for the Giants.

 … The Tigers will live-stream (audio and video) intrasquad games Saturday (noon) and Sunday (TBA) on Tigers.com from Comerica Park. Dan Dickerson and Dan Petry will be on the call.

Twitter @cmccosky