LOUISVILLE –– Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Hunter Greene has his pregame routine figured out.
Before his Triple-A home debut on Wednesday with the Louisville Bats, Greene jogged in the outfield. Then he stretched his shoulder using resistance bands. And then he started playing catch.
Even as he warmed up before the game, Greene was working on his changeup and his slider, which he curved 10 feet in the air and dropped right into the bullpen catcher’s mitt.
“To be able to throw hard is great,” Greene said. “But if you can’t produce other pitches in certain counts, it’s really tough to get these guys out. That’s the biggest thing for me, continuing to work on my secondary pitches and make those as good as my fastball.”
Greene, the Reds No. 2 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft and a 21-year-old right-hander, threw five shutout innings and allowed just two hits at Louisville Slugger Field on Wednesday. His fastball touched 102 mph, but the biggest difference between Greene at the start of the season and him now is how his secondary pitches look.
“He’s everything that has been talked about,” Bats pitching coach Seth Etherton said. “There are some things we’ll continue to work on in terms of being more efficient and bringing out some variability to see if we can change some hitters’ perspectives.
“He’s a very good student, he wants to learn and be as prepared as possible. We’re going over the minutiae of pitching in this game”
On Wednesday against Indianapolis, Greene pitched one of his best games of the year. He mixed all three pitches in five scoreless innings while facing an above-average Triple-A lineup.
Greene threw one of his best pitches in the first inning. Facing Indianapolis shortstop Cole Tucker, who was a starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, Greene threw his slider in a 1-0 count. Greene’s slider swept from left to right across the entire strike zone, and Tucker slipped off his back foot as he whiffed.
“I (couldn't) care less about how hard I’m throwing.” Greene said. “If I’m getting guys out with the off-speeds and all my pitches, it’s great. You can’t just get by in this game with just a hard fastball. There’s a lot I’m still learning, and I think I’m doing well keeping it in perspective.”
Greene also is developing a changeup as his third pitch. He almost exclusively throws his fastball and slider, and Etherton said Greene’s next step is building more confidence in his changeup.
“He does have a really good one,” Etherton said. “Against good fastball hitters, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw. He has learned that lesson, and he’s learning to trust that changeup. Now we’re working on a feel for it and the trust behind it.”
Greene’s changeup is faster than most, sitting between 88 and 92 mph. It also has some horizontal break as it rotates down in the strike zone, and it keeps hitters off-balance when it’s mixed with his high-velocity fastball.
That changeup was very effective on Wednesday.
In the second inning on Wednesday, Greene used his changeup to paint the right corner of the strike zone for an inning-ending strikeout. Later in the game, he hit the left corner with a changeup for another strike.
“I’m just mainly keeping the same arm action and getting out in front more efficiently,” Greene said about the changeup. “It has felt great. I don’t throw it as much as my other pitches, but I mix it in there and keep guys honest on that. I can keep them off-balance, and they know I have it.”
Greene said he threw all three pitches well against Indianapolis, but he still leaned on his fastball in the biggest spot of the game. On Wednesday, Greene only allowed two hits – a slow-roller in the infield and a 100-foot bloop single just over the head of the second baseman. Both of those hits came in the fourth inning, and Indianapolis loaded the bases after Greene allowed a walk.
Facing outfielder Jared Oliva with two outs, Greene threw one slider and four fastballs. The last pitch hit 102 mph as Oliva hit an inning-ending pop-out.
“It’s a different scenario than with nobody on, so you’ve got to bear down a little bit more,” Greene said. “But I never try to really reach back and overthrow. I just try to stay composed as much as possible and keep my mechanics the same.”
After the game ended, as Greene left the field following another standout performance, a young fan in a Reds t-shirt waited for Greene in hopes of an autograph. Greene signed the child’s ball. And then the child’s father told Greene he can’t wait to see him in Cincinnati.
Greene has heard questions about when he’ll join the Reds 26-man roster all season. He’s already throwing his fastball and his slider at a high level, but Greene has still only pitched in 30 professional games.
“Hopefully it’s soon, but I want to feel ready when I get up there and be able to contribute to the team,” Greene said. “There are a lot of great players up there. There are a lot of things I’ve got to work on. I’m 21, I’m still trying to maneuver through this thing, and I feel like I’m doing a good job. I’m never trying to lose sight of the little things.”