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Spring training 2017: Tigers’ Shane Greene is embracing his reliever role

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The former starter has found a new home in the bullpen.

Detroit Tigers v Miami Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Shane Greene was supposed to be a starter.

In his 2014 campaign with the New York Yankees, and his first season with the Detroit Tigers in 2015, Greene averaged 15 starts a year. When the Tigers snatched him out of the Yankee’s organization, then-general manager Dave Dombrowski said, “We look at him as a guy who can be a very solid starting pitcher.”

During that fateful first season with Detroit, Greene racked up a 6.88 ERA and numbers that were somewhere between average and distressing. In 2016, he started only three games before a blister moved him to the disabled list, and subsequently to the bullpen. At the time, it seemed like a move intended to help him improve his focus and command before returning him to the starting rotation. However, now it appears than Greene will remain in his relief role, which is a position he has come to embrace.

The role change seems to have helped improve Greene’s performance. In 2016, he posted the lowest FIP of his career, an impressive 3.13.

What’s more, Greene managed all this while dealing with some serious health difficulties. He has had to deal with ulnar neuritis, a condition which leads to numbness and weakness in the hands, not an ideal situation for a pitcher. When asked about his hands this week in Lakeland, and whether he feels better, Greene admitted, “I don’t remember what it feels like to have normal fingers.” He said it’s difficult to tell whether the neuritis will impact his ability, but it certainly hasn’t seemed to slow down his work ethic.

His focus this season is not on the potential limitations his condition could have, but rather how to make the most of the opportunities he has been given. Greene arrived at camp ready to give it his all in the relief position, and to prove he is capable of being the strong middle reliever he showed himself to be at the height of last summer.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is liking what he’s seen so far, commenting on Greene’s go-get-em motivation. “He likes coming in an emptying the tank for three or four outs. He will be better and more consistent this year.” Whereas in his previous years he went into training with a starter’s mindset, Greene will be shifting how he trains this year so he is better able to give it his all over a shorter stretch. Instead of a marathon, he is now training for the sprint.

One of his major areas of work in training is his fastball, which can tick upwards of 97 miles per hour depending on if it’s his four-seam or sinker. What he has in velocity, however, he has lacked in command. It’s a deficiency Greene himself is more than aware of. “The days I struggle are when my fastball command is down and I am either leaving it up or the hitters aren’t swinging at my off-speed stuff because I am not throwing the fastball for a strike.”

He has relied too heavily on his 90 mph cutter, and the lack of command in his sinker made his pitches a hit-buffet for hitters, especially in the latter part of the 2016 season. If he can get his command back, especially with his focus now being on shorter outings, Greene could easily become a strong, nasty arm in the Tigers bullpen.

Greene summed it up nicely when he said, “I did my job more often than not. I had a couple of blow-ups. If I can limit the blow-ups throughout the course of the year, I will be happy.” It’s a winner’s mindset, and it’s clear Greene wants to help the Tigers win next season.