LAKELAND, Fla. -- The bullpen mounds on the back fields at Tigertown had Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer lined up on Saturday, strong arms all, much-anticipated pitchers for various reasons. Mixed in there, too, was Shane Greene, who fits both categories.You remember Shane Greene, right? Started last season
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The bullpen mounds on the back fields at Tigertown had Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer lined up on Saturday, strong arms all, much-anticipated pitchers for various reasons. Mixed in there, too, was Shane Greene, who fits both categories.
You remember Shane Greene, right? Started last season in the Tigers rotation. Won his first three starts with 23 innings and one earned run allowed. Lost eight of nine decisions over his next 13 starts with a 9.20 ERA. Had a pseudoaneurysm in his shoulder that, in hindsight, might explain that last part.
"I don't want this guy to be a forgotten man," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's a guy we thought very highly of a Spring Training ago, after we traded [Robbie Ray] for him. Players have down years."
• Spring Training:Schedule | Tickets | Gear
Even healthy pitchers have down years. So do pitchers who have trouble feeling the baseball on their fingertips because of a lack of blood flow from shoulder to throwing hand.
"My fingers were going freezing cold and turning black and blue," Greene clarified Sunday morning. "It wasn't necessarily that I couldn't feel the ball. It was every time the ball would come off my fingers, it was stinging really bad. It would be like having really cold toes and then stomping your toes. It's the only way I can describe it. It was just a freak thing."
Greene says he doesn't know when it started. When his fingers felt cold early in the season, he figured he had to adjust to Midwestern weather. He didn't worry until he was driving to the ballpark one day, put his hand against his face and felt his frigid fingers on his cheek.
"Nobody really had any answers," Greene said. "I didn't have any pain except for cold fingers, so being a competitor, I just [decided] I'm going to go and compete until they tell me I can't anymore. And it just became an issue where all I could think about are my fingers. So that's when I said enough is enough."
Doctors found the aneurysm in August and operated. Had Greene kept it quiet much longer, he might have had bigger problems than gripping a fastball. Instead, his offseason challenge was to rebuild range of motion. Because doctors operated through the armpit, Greene didn't have muscle or tendon tears.
From there, the progress has been steady but slow.
"The surgery wasn't on my fingers, it was on my shoulder," he explained, "so my body is taking the blood clots out in time. And there's no way to tell how long it's going to take for it to be 100 percent. So right off the bat, [the fingers] were still pretty cold, but now that I've gotten going and it's a little while after surgery, they're feeling pretty good."
While the aneurysm is gone, meaning no new blood clots, Greene has no idea when remaining clots will dissipate. Until that happens, he could still have some occasional bouts, but not as severe as last year.
As he threw pitches Saturday, he felt much improved, cautiously upbeat. He said he's ahead of schedule in his throwing program. That doesn't mean he'll be pitching like last April, but he's pitching.
For now, he's in the mix for the fifth starter spot along with Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer. Greene is also an option for one of two bullpen openings -- not out of health concerns, Ausmus said, but pitching style.
"I don't want to pigeonhole him as a reliever right now," Ausmus said. "But if he were, I think his velocity would tick up, the slider would be a little harder. I think he could make the move rather easily and maybe see a tick up in stuff."
Greene's focus is pretty simple.
"I want to pitch in the big leagues," he said. "Whenever they tell me to go out there and get guys out, I'm going to go out there and do whatever I can to get as many guys out as possible."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.