Chad Green speaks calmly and with humility — a signal that his journey in 2019 is one he can look back on and commend, not condemn.
Green was one of the game’s top relievers in 2017 and a similarly reliable arm in 2018, but his start to 2019 was disastrous.
“I struggled really bad the first three or four weeks of the season,” Green said this past week. “For me, my fastball command was so bad at the beginning of the year that I put myself into a hole.”
His bread and butter is the fastball, a pitch so reliable that he has thrown it 76.8 percent of the time the last three years. But opponents hit .435 and slugged .870 against his heater during his first 7 2⁄3 innings this season. He surrendered 15 hits (including four home runs), four walks and 14 earned runs, the same amount he allowed in 69 innings in 2017, when he delivered a 1.83 ERA in his first season as a full-time reliever.
After allowing four runs in one-third of an inning against the Angels on April 23, he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the next day. His ERA was 16.43 at the time, and the Yankees could ill afford to let him work out the kinks in the majors.
Since his recall on May 12, however, Green has a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings, dropping his overall ERA to 4.91.
“For a guy like that to be optioned down to Triple-A, a lot of times, guys won’t handle that the right way,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said last weekend. “To Greenie’s credit, he went down and said, ‘I’ve got to work, I’ve got to make some adjustments.’ He did, had almost immediate results, got back here and has obviously had a major impact on our club in many different roles.”
Not averse to being called upon in any inning, Green has been used as an opener eight times, including in the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays (he loaded the bases before getting the next three batters out without allowing a run). The Yankees have won each game he’s opened, and Green has flourished in the role.
The pitcher who has followed Green’s one-inning starts often has been Nestor Cortes Jr., who said he spent four days with Green before he earned his first call-up to the majors.
“It’s pretty incredible what he did,” Cortes said. “Not everybody can go down there and keep the right mentality and come back up and be successful.
“Those four days, he was as he is here: quiet and about his business.”
Green moved his hands to a higher set position while in the minors. He said he has varied where his hands are set during his career, but based on the advice of RailRiders pitching coach Tommy Phelps, Green worked on his mechanics by starting with his hands up around the shoulders.
“I was open to anything at that point,” Green said. “I was searching for multiple things to try and have one thing stick. It seemed to work.”
Desperate, sure, but Green said he never considered ditching anything in his repertoire. By working on commanding his fastball, Green said his slider could play up as a change-of-pace for batters sitting on his No. 1 pitch, which has averaged 96.4 mph this year, according to FanGraphs.
Since Green’s return, Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild has noticed an uptick in velocity and improved command. That’s culminated in success “because of the way he’s handled it,” according to Rothschild.
“He’s got a slow heartbeat,” said Rothschild, who is in his ninth year with the Yankees. “He doesn’t get out of control because of adrenaline or anything like that, so that allows him to repeat a lot. His delivery’s fairly simple, which is another thing that allows him to repeat, so those two things together are a good combination.”
Now there’s little doubt that when Green enters a game, he’ll provide the Yankees with a reliable performance. Cortes called him “a bulldog” — albeit a quiet one, he said — and added that even without his best stuff, Green will compete.
Green’s ability to recreate what made him successful the previous two seasons could prove pivotal to the Yankees’ strategy the rest of the summer.
“You can see now, every time he comes in, it’s back to that electric stuff we’ve seen the last couple years,” Boone said. “It’s Chad Green, taking that situation and instead of being angry or upset or frustrated or sulky, he went down and got after it. As a result, he has come back and impacted us in a big way.”
CHAD GREEN’S 180
7 2/3 innings
14 earned runs
4 home runs
6 earned runs
3 home runs