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'He wasn’t going to be bullied today.' What Hunter Greene showed in the win over Chicago

CHICAGO — Last April, when the Cincinnati Reds weighed making Hunter Greene the youngest pitcher in MLB, the front office and the coaching staff focused on Greene’s fastball. They spoke about how if Greene had stayed in Triple-A to start the 2022 season, then Greene could have just overpowered minor-league hitters who wouldn’t have stood a chance against his 100 mph-plus fastball.

To be challenged, Greene had to be promoted to MLB. The Reds knew he had a lot of adjustments that he’d still need to make. To make Greene’s fastball as productive in MLB as it was in the minor leagues, he had to develop a better slider and throw his changeup more often. He had to figure out how to sequence pitches better and how to ramp up the quality of his pitches over the course of a single at-bat.

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Greene’s velocity and his fastball have always been his best tools, but it’s been a process in MLB to get to the point where he could overpower entire MLB lineups with that pitch.

On Friday, in a 9-0 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Greene threw six no-hit innings. The Cubs, a division rival with hitters who have seen Greene often, looked helpless against Greene’s fastball.

“People (have) got to understand through the early stages that there will be growing pains,” Greene said. “I’m trying to figure stuff out. We have a young group of players who will be figuring things out. We’re working hard every day, putting pieces together. It’ll pay off really soon.”

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene pitched six no-hit innings in Friday's win over the Cubs, and the key was the most impressive fastball that has had in any game of his career
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene pitched six no-hit innings in Friday's win over the Cubs, and the key was the most impressive fastball that has had in any game of his career

Greene has always thrown his fastball very, very hard. But in MLB, he has hit different roadblocks that prevented his fastball from being as effective as it could be.

When Greene had an inconsistent start to the 2023 season, he didn’t show much confidence in his slider or his changeup. Against the Philadelphia Phillies, he threw 24 straight fastballs and gave hitters a good idea of what pitch he’d be throwing. In April, Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson stressed to Greene that he needed to trust his changeup, which Greene almost completely abandoned for a stretch of starts.

Every adjustment that Greene makes is with his fastball in mind. Johnson reminds his pitchers to be “great at what you’re good at,” and Greene’s fastball is what makes him a unique pitcher.

But for Greene to maximize the potential of his fastball, he needed the threat of his changeup, which dives in the opposite direction.

“It’s probably pretty well documented that it’s been pretty good at times and there have been inconsistencies too,” Johnson said. “I do think his last few outings, he threw his changeup more and sooner than he had in other games. It’s helped him probably navigate the lineup better. It certainly helps get them off his slider and his fastball, so he becomes less predictable. That’s been the biggest thing.”

Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson told Hunter Greene that he needed to have more confidence in his changeup so that his fastball could become even more effective.
Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson told Hunter Greene that he needed to have more confidence in his changeup so that his fastball could become even more effective.

In each of his last three starts, he identified “small wins” that could lead to the type of start that he had on Friday. The spin on his slider, the command of his changeup and the way that Greene sequenced his fastball all gave him more confidence.

The goal for Greene has been to find more paths to set up his fastball. As Greene struck out 11 batters against the Cubs, he finished at-bats with 100 mph fastballs that the Cubs’ hitters never caught up to.

“You need that (fastball) to be a big part of your game when you throw it that hard,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It’s no different than guys who don’t throw that hard. You still have to locate. You still have to use it at the right time. You still have to use deception because if that’s all you have, these big league hitters face velocity like that enough now where they can make that adjustment. You still have to pitch. That’s the thing from a growth standpoint that Hunter is continually getting better at.”

Against the Cubs, all of the pieces clicked for Greene. He mixed in some changeups. He located sliders for strikes. His fastball was unhittable. The only flaw in his game was the amount of foul tips he allowed, which prevented Greene from pitching deeper into the game. Bell pulled Greene after the sixth inning after Greene had thrown 110 pitches.

“I’m hoping I can work on my pitches and get early contact and go deeper into games,” Greene said. “It’s a little tough when there’s more swing and miss and foul balls. It is what it is. I’d love to go nine innings with no hits. That’s not the normal. I’m focused on the now.”

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene couldn't complete Friday's no-hitter due to a high pitch count. He needed 110 pitches in six innings against the Cubs.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene couldn't complete Friday's no-hitter due to a high pitch count. He needed 110 pitches in six innings against the Cubs.

Reds catcher Curt Casali said that Greene “dared” the Cubs to hit his fastball and that aggressive mentality was the difference in the game for Greene. Every time Casali looked up at the radar gun, Greene was between 98 mph and 100 mph.

Greene’s fastball didn’t drop off at any point, and he kept the Cubs guessing with the effectiveness of his slider and a few well-timed changeups.

“We threw just enough sliders and changeups to get him off of (the fastball),” Casali said. “It just looked like he had a lot of intent on his pitches today. He wasn’t going to be bullied today. He was going to be the aggressor and with that type (of) stuff, a high-octane fastball, that’s what you have to do. Just dare them to hit it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for him.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: What Cincinnati Reds pitcher Hunter Greene showed in win over the Cubs