DETROIT -- Getaway day ended up being an early evening affair before the Detroit Tigers got to play the series finale against the Minnesota Twins. Shane Greene, making his first start in Comerica Park since last year and his first for the Tigers, had plenty of time to get rid of the nerves. By the time he took the mound at 4:44 p.m. the butterflies had dissipated, but Greene's command remained and he gave a pitching performance that was worth the wait.
There was nothing to do for over three hours. The cleats came on and off four times and it became a mental roller coaster for Greene. The equivalent of "watching paint dry" he said. Between the back and forth for the game's status, to wondering what kind of weather he would play in after the warm Lakeland weather, the right-handed starter just wanted to get a game in.
Meanwhile, manager Brad Ausmus had played the part of the eternal optimist Thursday morning. Despite that the weather report called for severe rain all day, Ausmus was confident that they would be able to get all nine innings in. But he also had a reason for wanting to play the series finale against the Twins, one that went beyond trying to sweep the team out of town to start the season. Going into Cleveland for the Tigers' next series, Ausmus did not want to skip Greene.
"It kind of worked out the way we had hoped," Ausmus said. "There was a window back there, and we knew the temperature was coming up, so it turned out to be actually really good weather to play baseball in, especially at this time of year."
After mowing through a flat Twins lineup and at just 85 pitches -- 65 strikes -- it would have seemed that a ninth inning would have been an easy feat. However, Ausmus said he could tell Greene just ran out of gas when he saw the righthander's fastball start to get up in the zone. But after eight strong, it's not surprising that he tired, after all, it was his first outing of the season.
Greene was the third Tigers starter to go deep into a game this season, and while that won't always be the case, both Ausmus and Greene were quick to acknowledge that pitching can be contagious. Eight strong innings is an impressive first regular season start for any pitcher, and that Greene started his time in Detroit that way is reassuring for the Tigers, and for fans. His efforts in the 7-1 victory against the Twins helped set a new American League scoreless streak record, 24 1/3, the third-longest active streak in MLB history.
"He's got very good stuff," Ausmus said. "If he can throw strikes and keep his ball down in the zone, especially his sinker, he'll be in great shape. He was outstanding. I think probably his sinker and cutter were his best pitches, although his change-up was outstanding to some of the left-handed hitters. That was a point of emphasis in spring training was for him to use that change-up. He got a number of outs on it, got a number of swings and misses on it."
Greene's outing was reminiscent of the two times he was in Comerica, when he tossed a combined 15 innings of two-run ball. Think along the lines of Doug Fister if the command holds true, like it did against the Twins on Thursday. You'll see him tossing anywhere from the mid-80s to 95 mph with movement, and that was true of his first start.
After the pitching performances David Price and Anibal Sanchez gave, however, the pressure to follow suit was the one thing not on Greene's mind. That the offense backed him up with seven runs didn't hurt, either. As the season wears on, if Greene maintains his ability to keep hitters guessing, inducing weak contact and ground balls, 2015 will be an impressive year for a pitcher with just one major league season under his belt.
"It's no pressure at all," Greene said. "If anything, it takes the weight off my shoulders, takes the spotlight off of me when they're doing things like that. I was pitching to win a ballgame. When your team goes out and scores runs, any pitcher goes to get that next inning over with as quick as possible and get back into the dugout so they can keep going."