DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers' pitching staff has dazzled through eight games this season, and few players have been better than closer Shane Greene.
Greene has pitched the final inning in each of the team's wins this season, leading all of Major League Baseball with five saves. He's only allowed two base runners and has yet to allow a run. Only one batter has gotten into scoring position.
This is an important season for Greene, who has established himself as a relief pitcher with plenty of upside but has yet to show consistent results.
In 2018, Greene was worse than a replacement-level player, allowing 36 earned runs in 63.1 innings, allowing 12 home runs and posting a 1.37 WHIP.
The Tigers are hoping Greene can get back to his 2017 form, when he struck out more than a batter per inning and posted a 1.24 WHIP a 2.4 WAR. Through five appearances, Greene is on the right track.
One positive from the 2018 season was Greene's walk rate, which plummeted to 6.8 percent, nearly half of his 12 percent 2017 rate. So far, Greene has faced 18 batters in 2019 without issuing a walk. He faced 35 batters with one walk during spring training.
Greene's five appearances have been mostly stress-free. Three of his outings were 1-2-3 innings and only allowed a two-out single in the home opener.
The lone shaky inning came Sunday against the Blue Jays. Greene inherited a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 11th inning before a single and a hit by pitch with one out. He escaped with a ground ball and a line out.
Greene is relying more on his fastball and slider than his cutter so far this season. About a quarter of his pitches were cutters last season, compared to 14.5 percent during his successful 2017 season. The cutter usage is down to 17.7 percent so far this year.
The only knocks on Greene are the strikeouts and his fastball velocity. He's only whiffed three batters in five innings, and his fastball is down about 2 mph from his career rate. Those trends are likely to normalize as the season wears on, though.
The closer position has long been a struggle for the Tigers, so Greene's first five appearances are a welcome sight. If he continues to be effective in the ninth inning, Greene could be a valuable trade chip this summer.