LOS ANGELES – David Bell noticed a change during the last two innings Hunter Greene pitched in spring training on the final day the Cincinnati Reds were in Arizona.
Greene, in his final tune-up prior to the regular season, was roughed up in his first two innings against the Seattle Mariners. Then in his last two innings, he struck out four of the six batters he faced.
“That set him up for how he's pitching right now,” Bell said after Greene allowed five hits and two earned runs across 5 1/3 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. “Mechanics, mental, whatever it was, that really got him locked in. The life on his fastball is different. It's a different kind of 101 mph than maybe one that is easier to see and pick up, which is really hard to explain. But something is definitely different.”
There was a change, Greene confirmed, but he smiled and declined to discuss specifics. His fastball was phenomenal in his first two Major League starts. He threw his fastball 71% of the time against the Dodgers, rarely using his changeup, and he was dominant until Trea Turner hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning of a 5-2 loss.
Greene’s fastball will always draw headlines because of the jaw-dropping velocity, but it was such a go-to pitch for him against the Dodgers and Atlanta. Hitters have whiffed in 39.6% of their swings against it. As hitters focus more on trying to catch up to the fastball, Greene’s slider becomes more effective.
“There were some minor adjustments and some tinkering that I had to do mechanically that made a difference with all of my pitches and how it came out,” Greene said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
A key for Greene is his ability to locate his fastball on the inside part of the plate. It makes for an uncomfortable at-bat. Turner pulled a 99-mph fastball on the inside corner for his home run, but Greene said it was a couple of inches higher than he wanted it.
“Everyone knows the fastball is what it is,” Greene said. “I think it definitely keeps guys honest, especially when you come inside. That’s something I’m really proud of and that I’m continuing to work on. I’ve definitely become better at that.”
Greene, of course, isn’t a finished product two starts into his career. He’s surrendered three homers, all in the final inning of his outings when fatigue sets in. There will be starts when he needs to rely more on his offspeed pitches.
“He’s going to continue to get challenged for the whole year,” Bell said. “He’s going to have his ups and downs but being able to experience what he has so far, getting the taste of that against two really good teams is going to help him smooth that out.”
SENZEL OUT SICK: Nick Senzel was placed on the COVID Injured List on Saturday after feeling sick for the third straight day. He did not test positive for COVID-19, Bell said, but teams can use the COVID IL if a player is showing symptoms and add a player to the roster.
The Reds called up reliever Daniel Duarte to fill Senzel’s roster spot and Duarte pitched one inning in Saturday’s 5-2 loss.
“He has not been diagnosed with COVID,” Bell said, “but we're allowed to put him on until we make sure of that.”
Reliever Ryan Hendrix missed Wednesday’s game with an illness, and that may be similar to what has kept Senzel sidelined.
Senzel didn’t report to Dodger Stadium on Thursday because he was feeling sick, then returned Friday afternoon. He took swings in the batting cage, but he felt worse before first pitch Friday and was sent back to the hotel.
There are no signs Senzel is dealing with vertigo, which he dealt with earlier in his minor-league career.
“That has not come up,” Bell said. “We saw him (Friday). Then right before the game, he started feeling bad again, so we tried to get him out of here as quick as we could. Maybe we were a little too quick in allowing him to come back. He thought he was fine. We got him out of here in time. He's not going to be here (Saturday) at all.”
CASTILLO PROGRESSING: Luis Castillo threw 20 pitches in a live batting practice session Friday at Dodger Stadium and he’s expected to throw in another session Tuesday in San Diego.
“It definitely feels like we're getting back into the routine,” Castillo said, according to team interpreter Jorge Merlos. “It feels like we're getting back in spring training mode and getting ready for the regular season. I've got all my routines back in order, so we're on our way.”
Castillo, on the 10-day Injured List for the first time in his career, didn’t have a timeline to begin a minor-league rehab assignment, but it could be the next step if Tuesday’s throwing session goes well.
“Hopefully it’ll be soon,” Castillo said.