Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.
Six years removed from those long days of rehab from elbow surgery, Greene’s sinker is getting out MLB hitters in the midst of a playoff chase.
“I had never done it before and I started playing around with that,” Greene said of the pitch which was encouraged by bullpen catcher Ismael Cotto. “Once I signed and I had radar guns on me at all times, I realized I wasn’t losing any velocity with it. So I just played with it and played with the grip.”
It is that pitch, and the others coming out of Greene’s right hand, that has helped stabilize a Yankee rotation battered by injuries.
Greene has the unique distinction of being drafted out of a college he never threw a pitch for in a game setting. Instead every pitch thrown for Daytona Beach came during the long road back from the Tommy John surgery that led to Western Florida taking away his scholarship.
“He was around 92 for us in that last practice that we had,” Daytona Beach coach Tim Tourma said. “So his stuff has certainly gotten better as he’s gotten stronger and spent some time in the Yankees’ minor league system but that velocity with that much sink I think is special, but again I go back to Shane and give Shane the credit.”
Greene had decided to pursue a major college scholarship in 2009 when he threw for Yankee scout Jeff Deardoff, who knew Greene personally. Instead, the Yankees made him a 15th-round pick.
“It all happened so fast,” Greene said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I never even thought about how much money I was going to sign for. I always joked, a plane ticket and I’ll be there.”
Tourma did not see how special Greene could be until the end of the year in Daytona.
“He started a throwing program and could barely play catch and that was in the fall,” Tourma said in a phone interview. “I saw a couple of bullpens later in the spring but he didn’t get on the main field and throw to hitters until the very last practice of the year and that was the time I really saw his stuff and went, ‘OK, this is special.’ But it wasn’t until the very last practice that I knew he had that kind of stuff.
“The velocity and the movement that he had for a guy that showed up at our place and could barely throw the ball 20 feet. To see him progress that much in that amount of time I thought put him at a different level.”
“The day I got drafted, it was kind of surreal for me and my family and my close friends. I never really paid attention to the drafts before. I used to throw 84 to 86 [mph], hit 89 every once in a while. So I knew playing professional ball was a longshot even though it was a dream. I never really thought about it.
After some early struggles, Greene evolved to the point where he was the Yankees’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 following a combined 12-10 record with Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
While the record was not dominant, the improvement was noticeable especially in terms of throwing strikes. In his first four professional seasons, Greene issued 178 walks in 341 1/3 inning but last year and this year with Triple-A Scranton, he issued 44 in 220 2/3 innings.
“I knew that if I cut at least cut them in half at the end of the year my numbers would be [better],” Greene said. “So that was my biggest goal going into last season — get my walks down. I had to sell out where basically I told myself if I give up a home run, I give up a home run. I’m not going to pick, I’m just going to attack guys and if I never threw a ball the whole season, I knew that if I eventually stuck with that then the rest would be there and I stayed with it.”
Greene’s eighth career start will be Friday against the White Sox. So far the highlights have been getting a standing ovation for nearly pitching a complete game against Detroit on Aug. 7, taking no-hitters into the fifth in his first two starts and a 10-strikeout game against Tampa Bay.
Not bad for someone who Tourma said was floating without much direction when he first stepped foot in Daytona Community College.
“I think it’s a unique story,” Tourma said. “I think it’s a great story. He was kind of floating. Nobody really wants a guy coming off Tommy John surgery that really isn’t going to pitch for the next 10 months. We just happened to have a unique program available that fit these guys and allowed these guys to go the college full time and also have access to a weight room and a field to go throw this process. When I met Shane, there wasn’t a whole lot going for him at that time. So to see what’s he’s doing now is special.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.