Tigers face decision on struggling Greene

Tigers face decision on struggling Greene

DETROIT -- It's been seven-and-a-half weeks since Shane Greene beat the White Sox at Comerica Park to improve to 3-0 in his first three starts as a Detroit Tigers starter. He had allowed one earned runs in 23 innings, the best three-start beginning to a season by a Tigers pitcher since 1945.

It's fewer than eight weeks ago, but now that Greene has a 4-6 record and a 5.82 ERA, it feels like eight months. As he stood in front of his locker on Wednesday night, having allowed five runs on seven hits in just three innings against the Cubs, the question came up as to what has changed for him since then.

"If I knew the answer to that question," Greene said, "you guys wouldn't be asking me these questions. I don't know."

It wasn't a malicious answer, but it was pretty much the theme for the night -- lots of questions, not a lot of answers from Greene and his manager on his struggles and how to address them. The most definitive answer from Brad Ausmus was more of a physics lesson, when asked if Greene's sinker is betraying him.

"Well, the sinker, when it comes up, isn't really a sinker," Ausmus said.

For Greene, though, it's more than the sinker. He has struggled with his secondary pitches as well, which has left him vulnerable to left-handed hitters. After Wednesday's loss, he's now giving up a .340 average and .955 OPS against lefties, compared with .225 and .680 against right-handed batters.

Just as three starts provided a snapshot of his early-season success, Greene now has the counterbalance. After giving up five runs on seven hits over three innings Wednesday, Greene has allowed 16 earned runs on 21 hits over nine innings in his last three starts.

"Pitchers are like hitters. They can go through ups and downs," Ausmus said. "They're usually not as dramatic. It's not unheard of for guys to pitch and struggle, or vice versa. Three outings does not make a season, 32 outings does, so I wouldn't rush to judgment on anything."

That does not guarantee the Tigers will give him another start on turn. Detroit exercised patience with another talented but mercurial right-hander, and Max Scherzer rewarded them with a Cy Young Award-winning season and a three-year run that ranked among the best this franchise has seen. However, when Scherzer was struggling in his first season with the Tigers in 2010, capped by a three-homer demise against the Red Sox in mid-May, Detroit optioned him to Triple-A Toledo to work things out.

Then-manager Jim Leyland said at the time, "This is a little bit of a time where we can pick some spots to get him down there, get him working on things and come back and be the pitcher that we know we have."

Scherzer made two starts for the Mud Hens, tossed 15 innings of one-run ball, struck out 14 Oakland Athletics over 5 2/3 innings in his return a couple weeks later, and never went back.

Greene's spot in the rotation comes up again Tuesday night at Comerica Park against the Reds -- a low-average, high-power club that boasts left-handed hitters in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and former Tiger Brennan Boesch. Ausmus was noncommittal on that assignment.

"I wouldn't talk about any decisions, if there were a decision to be made," Ausmus said. "I think he's struggling. That's the best way to put it. He's struggling to make pitches."

Whether Greene gets the call should become clear shortly. The Tigers announced that they will call up lefty reliever Ian Krol, and they need to make a corresponding move on Friday. They'll also have to open a spot for Justin Verlander when he returns from the disabled list on Saturday.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.