Shane Greene said it a few weeks ago: He feels like the Detroit Tigers’ closer’s role is his to lose this spring training.
And in the least surprising news out of Tiger Town so far, manager Ron Gardenhire said Greene is his top choice at closer this season.
After Thursday’s pitchers and catchers workout, Gardenhire stopped short of outright saying Greene would be his closer, but echoed the right-hander’s thoughts on the spot.
“If a guy had the job when he left here, I’m not going to sit here and say he’s not going to be my closer,” Gardenhire said. “So is there competition? There’s always going to be a competition with everything, but I think the way his season ended with Detroit last year, I think he comes in as our closer, absolutely. His to lose is the way that I’ll put it and we’ll go from there.”
Greene, 29, posted a career season in 2017, posting a 2.66 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 71 appearances. After Francisco Rodriguez was released and Justin Wilson traded, Greene served in the closer’s role for the last two months of the season. He converted eight out of nine save opportunities down the stretch.
On paper, the Tigers’ bullpen is in bad shape, with only a few safe bets to make the team this spring in Greene, lefty Daniel Stumpf and righty Alex Wilson. Wilson is competing for a starting rotation spot. So it’s no surprise that Gardenhire is leaning so heavily toward Greene in the ninth inning.
“I think we have a few candidates but I think we’ve got one that’s a really great athlete with quality stuff and has the mentality that I don’t think too many things bother him, the way it looks to be just by reading him out there on the field,” he said.
That one is Greene, who was outspoken last season in his desire to close.
“Confidence,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been there, he’s done it. Absolutely I think you want that attitude. Those guys are a special breed. They have no fear and so why would he be afraid to say something like that? I want that. I want that attitude.”
Greene hasn’t made any major adjustments to his pitching repertoire last season but has been focusing on throwing back-door sliders to righty batters. He has shown to have good stuff coming out of the bullpen, but being a full-time closer is a different kind of challenge, one Gardenhire sounds comfortable in trusting him with.
“He has no fear, as you can tell,” Gardenhire said. “He’s going to go out there and tell you exactly what he thinks. Those guys want the ball and obviously, he wants that job. It’s not an easy job to be out there. There are special people that can do it and some people that can’t, and I think he’s probably one that can.”
Gardenhire sure hopes so. Greene has had two major surgeries – elbow ligament reconstruction and ulnar nerve transposition – and has been nagged by blister issues in the past. If he gets injured or can’t be counted on, it will present a big problem for the veteran manager.
Asked if he felt the team would have one singular closer, Gardenhire laughed and said, “My God, I hope so. I would hate to think that we don’t have a designated closer.”