The Detroit Tigers possess no ordinary starting rotation. At least, not during their four-year postseason run that preceded this campaign. The likes of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello have combined to make them the most dominant group in the American League.

Want proof? Since 2011, Tigers’ starters have recorded more wins, innings pitched and a higher K/9 than any other AL staff.

But last winter’s departures of Scherzer and Porcello—122 combined wins in the past four years—signaled a seismic shift in Motown. Minus two elite starters and with scant resources available in the farm system, Detroit needed external help.

Enter Shane Greene.  The lanky right-hander was acquired via trade last December and charged with filling some super-sized shoes.

Greene brought to the Motor City only 15 career major league appearances and five wins. All of these came last year with the New York Yankees. Before arriving in the Big Apple, he had compiled a 29-43 record in the minors with a 4.39 ERA—hardly prepossessing numbers.

Based on these credentials, Detroit’s newbie seems like a modest solution to a colossal problem. A Band-Aid applied to a six-inch gash.

But Greene performed admirably last season when called up by New York. More than that, he showed some signs that he could be a pitcher on the verge of breaking out.

At times he was unhittable in 2014, and Detroit saw this firsthand. The Tigers twice had the displeasure of facing Greene’s filthy offerings. His combined numbers in these outings were compelling: 2-0, 15 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 13 K.  

However, the righty remained plagued with inconsistency: Only six of his 14 starts were quality starts. Something was missing.

Greene’s pitching arsenal, including two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a cutter and a slider are all above-average pitches. It is this impressive kitbag that earned him a shot at the big show. But he lacked a quality changeup.

In his Yankees outings, his changeup was nearly nonexistent. According to FanGraphs, he used it only 4.3 percent of the time.

Greene recognized the need to put in the work and improve his changeup. He recently told Ashley Dunkak of CBS that “a lot of trial and a lot of error” may have finally led to a breakthrough. “I’ve been trying different changeup grips my whole career, and towards the end of the season last year I found one that I got pretty comfortable with…”

Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones saw plenty of potential in his changeup during the spring.  Jones predicted its usage would increase exponentially this season: “I think his ceiling is very high…and I think it’ll be even higher with the changeup…If he gets confident in it, he may use it 15 to 20 times,” he suggested to Dunkak.

Jones’ comments now seem quite prophetic. In Greene’s outing last week versus Minnesota—his first as a Tiger—13 of his 85 pitches (15.3 percent) were changeups.

The result? The right-hander had arguably the finest outing of his career. He gave up no earned runs in eight highly-efficient innings and got the victory. Greene may now be ready to take that step up to the elite level.

There is arguably nobody better to judge the quality of a pitcher’s offerings than the man catching them. Alex Avila has spent plenty of time receiving Greene since March. He was effusive in praising his battery mate when speaking to Dunkak:

He’s got four nasty pitches…His stuff is flat-out nasty, and he’s able to command it. When he’s able to command his pitches in the zone, he’ll have a lot of success because his stuff is really good. Having faced him last year, catching him during the spring, I’m very excited about his year … I think as he continues to develop and to figure himself out, he can win a lot of ball games.

There is no expectation that Greene will replace the output of 2013 Cy Young Award winner Scherzer. But, he may well be a very handy substitute for Porcello. In fact, the two share some striking similarities. The latter has achieved success through the years inducing ground balls. Last season, Greene’s 50.2 ground-ball percentage was 1.2 percent higher than Porcello’s. They are also both 26 years old and neither is vertically challenged—Greene is one inch shorter at 6’4”.

Of course, Porcello’s 75 career wins currently dwarf Greene’s six. But history does not determine the future, and Greene may still outperform the Red Sox hurler in the months and years to come. He will cost a lot less, too.

Earlier this month, Porcello signed a lucrative multi-year deal with Boston.  

With Porcello’s contract heading into its final year in 2015, the Tigers knew he was a pricey proposition with no guarantee of returning. On the other hand, newcomer Greene will be under team control at least through the 2022 season while earning just above the league minimum this year.

Greene’s contract will be also be highly beneficial for Detroit, who would prefer to avoid exceeding the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million. Their current total payroll sits at just over $173 million, according to ESPN.

Of course, things need to be kept in perspective. Greene’s six career wins are just that—six wins. He still has everything to prove. However, he and his fellow Detroit starters are showing that their staff may not be the fallen giant that many people suspected.

If Greene and the others can maintain their momentum, they may yet prove to be the equal of any Tigers rotations of the recent past.

All stats in the this article are courtesy of FanGraphs

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