Lakeland, Fla. — Earlier this spring, Detroit Tigers closer Shane Greene talked about re-incorporating a change-up into his pitch mix this season. And now, in his recent outings, he’s dusted off his curveball.
What’s next, a knuckleball?
“I’m throwing them all,” Greene said with a chuckle.
Last season, a relatively rocky one, Greene relied almost entirely on his sinker, slider and cutter, mixing in a four-seam fastball, as well. According to Brooks Baseball, he hasn’t thrown a change-up in a regular season game since 2015, when, as a starting pitcher, he threw 124 of them.
He threw 10 curveballs in 2017 and 11 in 2015.
“I’ve always had (those pitches),” Greene said Saturday. “My job is to get three outs before they touch the fourth base. It doesn’t really matter how I do it.”
The impetus for bringing back a change-up, Greene said, was primarily to get hitters, right-handed hitters, off his sinker. They hit .291 off that pitch last season, the highest average against it since he became a reliver.
Hitters know that’s his best pitch and if they are sitting on it, they can jump it and hit it hard to the pull field. But, Greene said, if he can execute a change-up on the inside part of the plate, the hitters will swing over top of it. It’s a pitch, he said, that he should never have to throw in the strike zone.
The ideology behind the curveball is similar in that he doesn’t have to throw it for a strike.
“The curveball is more for my arm path and I can bounce it a little better than I can my slider,” Greene said. “My slider sometimes doesn’t have the depth, it’s more side to side. So if I’m ahead 0-2 and I want to try and bounce one, in the past bouncing my slider was irrelevant because it didn’t start as a strike and didn’t have the depth.
“Bouncing the curveball is something I am kind of playing around with. I threw it the other day, tried to bounce it and it stayed in the zone and the guy flew out. But the main purpose is to bounce it.”
Greene said he always has thrown a couple of curve balls when he’s warming up in the bullpen.
“It helps me with my arm path, it keeps it a little shorter,” he said. “So that’s not nearly as big a change as throwing a change-up would be. But if I can get guys out with it, I’m going to throw it.”
He’s been getting hitters out all spring. He gave up a run in his first outing, and then has pitched six straight scoreless innings. The last four, he’s needed just six, six, 10 and 12 pitches to get his three outs.
A tip from Tram
You might have noticed a power surge from Ronny Rodriguez this spring. The utility player hit five home runs in 206 plate appearances with the Tigers last season. He’s already hit four home runs in 34 plate appearances this spring.
“I just got lucky,” he said with a smile.
Actually, his power stroke (.706 slugging percentage) has been a function of a lot of work in the cage with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, as well as a small adjustment in his stance he made at the suggestion of Hall-of-Famer Alan Trammell.
“I don’t think about homers,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just preparing and getting ready and trying to be consistent. I was working a lot in the cages with McClendon and I talked to Tram the other day, getting advice.”
Trammell noticed that Rodriguez often flew open too soon when he swung. His front foot would step toward the back of the batters’ box and his hips would be open to the pitcher. He was having trouble staying on pitches that were on the outside part of the plate.
Trammell suggested that he square up his stance, which would help keep him closed longer.
“Now when I finish my swing, my hands go straight through,” he said. “I am not open and I can keep my bat through the zone longer.”
Rodriguez is battling to win the final position player spot on the roster. He, Gordon Beckham and Harold Castro are still in the hunt.
Right fielder Nick Castellanos was scratched from the lineup again Saturday, still fighting the soreness in his bruised left hand.
He took swings in the cage and said he felt better. He also acknowledged that he got additional tests on the hand and they came back negative.
He was hit by a pitch last Sunday and hasn’t played all week.