Greene's slider, not his fastball, wows Reds

Rookie's secondary pitch generates double-digit whiffs for 2nd straight start

May 22nd, 2022

TORONTO -- Stuck in a bases-loaded mess that was hardly his doing, Reds starter Hunter Greene went back to the pitch that has helped him unlock his full potential.

No, not the triple-digit fastball. The sharp, swing-inducing slider.

Greene used his slider to fan Matt Chapman and escape a sixth-inning jam in a tie game on Saturday afternoon, letting out a roar and pounding his chest on the way to the dugout. That capped another stellar start for Greene -- in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre -- and a great response to the flamethrower’s 7 1/3 no-hit innings his previous time out.

“Out of everything that Hunter’s done this year, that might’ve been my favorite moment so far,” manager David Bell said of the Chapman strikeout. “We’re gonna have a lot more of those [moments], but so far, that was impressive.”

Cincinnati dropped its second straight in the three-game set with Toronto, but Greene has said more than once that he’s not measuring his rookie season by wins and losses. Development is what matters, and he’s taking strides every time he takes the field.

“For me, it’s really [about] becoming a better pitcher and looking back after the season and being proud of the steps that I’ve made,” said Greene, who logged six innings and yielded one run on four hits and two walks to go with six strikeouts.

Greene had plenty to be proud of against the Blue Jays, and it started with the slider. Greene collected five of his six strikeouts on the secondary offering, which generated double-digit whiffs for the second time in as many starts.

Sometimes, Greene’s slider takes a nosedive, touching low-90s on its way into the dirt. Other times, it features more shape and bends away from righties with mid-80s velocity.

“He can manipulate it how he wants,” catcher Tyler Stephenson said.

Paired with a fastball that averaged 100.1 mph, that slider gave the Blue Jays all sorts of trouble.

They returned the favor with some trouble of their own in the sixth inning in a 1-1 game. Greene appeared to have a 1-2-3 inning, but Mike Moustakas’s throwing error extended the frame. On the next at-bat, Greene gave up a single to Santiago Espinal. After that, Alejandro Kirk worked a full-count walk.

Chapman was destined to be Greene’s final batter no matter what. Staring down at a 2-0 count, Greene dotted a pair of 100+ mph heaters on the outer edge before coming back with a slider that cut through the heart of the zone.

As enjoyable of a moment as that was for Greene, his manager and teammates may have enjoyed the righty’s jubilant reaction even more.

“He’s very composed, very mature,” Bell said of his 22-year-old starter. “But at the same time, it’s an emotional game. So letting that out is a good thing. And he should.”

“Personally, I love it because he doesn’t really show a lot of emotions,” Stephenson said. “He’s a very steady-minded guy. When he gets fired up, it’s just really fun. … He’s into the game. He cares. He cares a lot.”

Greene’s greatness over his past three starts -- 1.93 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings -- is part of an impressive trend for the Reds. Entering Saturday, Cincinnati’s rotation has ranked ninth in MLB in both ERA (3.34) and barrel rate allowed (6.3 percent) over the past two weeks.

Luis Castillo, who posted a quality start in Friday’s series opener, is rounding into form after starting the season on the injured list. Tyler Mahle’s above-average marks in expected batting average, chase rate and barrel rate are starting to show on the stat sheet, too. And with Mike Minor nearing his return, the Reds’ rotation should continue to be a force that keeps its offense in a position to compete.

Through the first 31 games of the season, not a single Cincinnati starter completed six innings in an outing. Bell noted on Friday that that was partially by design, given the abbreviated Spring Training this year.

Still, it put a strain on the rest of the pitching staff, which contributed to a 4.55 ERA for the bullpen in April (29th in MLB). Now, seven of the past eight Reds starters have gone six or more innings, and a positive trickle-down effect can take place.

“It’s been a big part of our team for several years now,” Bell said of his rotation, “and we’re getting back to making that a strength this season.”