DETROIT -- Shane Greene is used to the feeling, or lack thereof, in his fingers by now. Progress is slow moving, but he's been steadily improving since he was sidelined with a pseudoaneurysm in his right arm last August.
Still, signs of the injury that ended Greene's season prematurely in 2015 are still there. A scab that has been healing slowly -- as a result of poor circulation due to blood clots -- on his right middle finger burst open again on Sunday, prompting a sudden exit. A setback, but relative to last year, a smaller one.
Greene has appeared more relaxed around the clubhouse and on the mound of late, and his first three innings on Sunday displayed just that. His pitches were crisp and had movement, and there was an effortlessness to his delivery. Even passing through the halls or sitting at his locker, a usual somber or quiet Greene has been smiling and laughing more often.
What began as mild ulnar neuritis in May developed into something more severe, and even the Detroit Tigers' head athletic trainer, Kevin Rand, hadn't seen a pitcher deal with the type of injury Greene went through. The tingling/numbness he was feeling gave him cold fingers, and it drove him to the minors where the team hoped he would recover. That didn't happen, though, and by August Greene's situation had escalated.
"The first time I felt it I wasn't freaking out because (my fingers) weren't super cold," Greene said. "But once they got worse and worse -- when they were at the worst (my fingers) were turning black, they were so cold. There was just no blood (flowing)."
It got to the point where every time Greene threw a pitch, there was a sharp stinging feeling at the tip of his fingers. He couldn't throw anymore, and from the second joint in his fingers to the tips, his fingers would turn black from the lack of blood.
That led to the Tigers placing Greene on the disabled list, which led to surgery on the circumflex artery of his right shoulder. His season was over. The surgery repaired the blood clots that were causing the severe numbness, tingling, and coldness in his fingers, but he's still working to get all of the feeling back in his fingers.
The lack of blood flow to his fingers left Greene with a blood blister that has never fully healed. The scar extended out cover the entire tip of his middle right finger. There are still varying degrees of scab tissue in the process of getting back to full health. In the center, about the size of a small pin head, the scabbing was still completely black. For Greene, the feeling he still feels is a pretty strange one even though he's used to it.
"It's weird for me because I've been dealing with it for so long now," Greene said. "It's like I would get used to it and I forget, and it's like I ignore it sometimes, just because I'm so used to it now. But to most people, if they were to have the feeling that I feel, they would probably freak out at first, for sure."
The Tigers have been pitching in some cooler weather, and despite the recent sunshine, it does have an effect on Greene more so than the other starters because of the circulation issue. Right now his primary issue is dealing with cold fingers as a result of the blood clots. Those clots are healing and he said they're getting better every day. But due to the slow speed at which he's healing, it's been hard to tell.
Greene is admittedly much better than he was at the end of spring training. But tracking progress on a day-to-day basis is trickier. As to how it's affected his ability to pitch, scar, blister, and all, the only thing he's had to change is he now holds a Hot Hand warmer in his hand. It's helped him get some more blood flowing to his pitching hand.
However, Greene hasn't had to change how he grips the ball. For now, he's concentrating on letting his body heal itself, and work with pitching coach Rich Dubee on fixing a few mechanical things. His balance on the mound, for one, and his front leg has been flying open on occasion, so they're trying to fix that incrementally. While he misses now retired pitching coach Jeff Jones, Greene is appreciative of a new perspective.
If Sunday's first three innings are a foreshadowing of the future, Greene will be fine, mechanically. As for his blister, manager Brad Ausmus said after Sunday's game that the team isn't sure if Greene will need time on the DL. Greene, however, is just thankful to have the blood flow back in his fingers, and if it were up to him, there would be no DL.
But it's not, so only time will tell. The blister will need to heal, but at this point the cold feeling in his fingers is just another part of his day, and his recovery.
"I've been (pitching with it for so long) now, so I don't know what it feels like to not have it," he laughed. "But it's getting better because the whole tip of my finger, pretty much was that (black) color for a long time. It's getting better because the darkness is starting to go away. It's starting to get some more blood in the area."