By Ashley Dunkak
LAKELAND, FLA. - In the past, Shane Greene would typically throw his changeup about four times over seven innings of work, he estimated Tuesday as he sat in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse after the team's first full squad workout of spring training.
This season, Greene expects that number to bounce up, perhaps considerably.
"I haven't really used my changeup a whole lot because it's never really been that good, which is why going into the offseason I knew it was something I needed to work on, and I have," Greene said, "and I'm pretty happy with where it's at right now."
Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones asked Greene about the changeup the first time he saw him.
"I'd just seen it on tape over the winter, and I got down here about a week before camp started, and he was down here getting ready to throw, and I said to him, 'How's your changeup?'" Jones recalled. "And he kind of gave me a funny look, and he threw seven in a row of the best changeups he says he's ever thrown. Sometimes with guys it takes a little bit of time to get good feel on a changeup, and hopefully he's gotten that feel."
For Greene, finding that feel has been an arduous process. When he was with the New York Yankees last season, he was switching his grip on the changeup every month in search of one that was comfortable and effective.
"It's trial and error," Greene said, then smiled. "There's been a lot of trial and a lot of error.
"It's all feel and grip and trying something different," Greene continued. "I've been trying different changeup grips my whole career, and towards the end of the season last year I found one that I got pretty comfortable with, and I just knew going into the offseason I was going to have to work on it. Grabbing the ball or grabbing a fastball every time is easy, but grabbing that changeup, it's a little different, especially when my whole career I've changed it like every month or so. Just getting used to the grip, really, was the biggest thing for me."
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild showed Greene the grip he has used since the end of last season, and Greene spent the offseason working on it, and he will continue to do so in spring training.
Greene turned in an ERA of 3.78 in 15 appearances for the Yankees last season, his first in the majors, and the Tigers no doubt hope he will be similarly effective in 2015. Optimistic about Greene already, Jones said perfecting the changeup will help the young pitcher significantly.
"It's going to be huge because his other pitches are quality pitches," Jones said. "As a starting pitcher in the major leagues, you need something slow to upset the hitter's timing. If you throw everything hard, he can time it a lot easier, but if you've got something slow to upset his timing, it's to your advantage.
"Based on what I've seen personally when he pitched against us and people I've talked to, some of his former coaches, I think his ceiling is very high," Jones added, "and I think it'll be even higher with the changeup."
Jones said Greene's use of the changeup could increase rather dramatically if he becomes truly comfortable with the pitch.
"If he gets confident in it, he may use it 15 to 20 times," Jones said. "There's going to be certain games where it's probably going to be working better. There'll be other games where his breaking balls are working really well so he might not use his changeup as much, but ideally, 15 times, I'd say, maybe 20 times if it's working real well."
Getting to that comfort level may take time, of course, just as it took time for Greene to warm to the new grip initially.
"It took a while, a couple weeks working on it," Greene said. "I've been trying to find one for a long time, and I think I finally did."
The Tigers traded for Greene in December, so while one of his specific goals this spring training is to further refine the changeup, he has a more general goal of getting to know his new teammates.
"It's easy and it's hard at the same time in spring training because we're always doing stuff," Greene said. "There's no down time to really talk, but being in the locker room with them every day, it's starting to get a little bit easier.
"It's just right now we're out there doing stuff on the field a lot of the time, so you can't have a full conversation, maybe a few words here and there and that's it," Greene added, "but that time will come."
While he is happy to be with the Tigers, Greene admitted he was stunned when the Yankees traded him. The move, he hinted, will motivate him in the future.
"When I first found out about the trade, the initial reaction is like, take a step back, wow," Greene said. "It's almost like you feel like you got dumped. Just evaluate the situation and look at yourself in the mirror and put a chip on your shoulder and go play some baseball, and that's what I'm going to do."
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