LAKELAND, Fla. -- He doesn't remember exactly when it began, but the first time Detroit Tigers pitcher Shane Greene noticed something was amiss, he was driving. He had his fingers -- the pinky and ring finger on his pitching hand -- to his cheek and noticed they were unusually cold.
Even then, though, it was hard to be sure. Were his fingers just cold, or was it the weather outside to blame?
But the symptoms worsened, and his fingers were no longer just cold, they were turning black and blue. When he would pitch, he’d immediately get a bad stinging sensation when the ball left his hand.
“It would be like having really cold toes and stomping your toes, the only way I can describe it,” Greene said on Sunday before workouts at the Tigers’ spring training complex. “It was just a freak thing. Nobody really had any answers. I didn’t have any pain except for cold fingers, so, being a competitor, I’m going to go out and compete until they tell me I can’t anymore."
But eventually, his fingers became all he could think about. He knew he had to inform the team’s doctors and seek treatment. That’s when he found out he had suffered an aneurysm that was causing blood clots, which had by then traveled from his shoulder to his fingers.
Greene was subsequently forced to undergo season-ending vascular surgery in August to repair the aneurysm, though the details around what caused it, and when, remain fuzzy.
“All I know is I had an aneurysm, I no longer have an aneurysm and I’m moving forward,” Greene said.
Though the surgery abruptly ended his 2015 season, things could have been much worse had the aneurysm gone undetected.
“My fingers could’ve probably died,” The 27-year-old Greene said. “There was no blood in my fingers so I could’ve lost those, maybe.”
Suffice it to say that for a pitcher, that would have been devastating.
Recovery from surgery took less time than had he underwent a procedure on a muscle or a tendon, but still, regaining his range of motion in that first month post-operation was difficult. He was put on blood thinners and his fingers were still feeling cold. Because he had surgery on his shoulder, where the aneurysm was located, and not his fingers, the repair addressed the cause but not the symptoms.
He is still waiting for the blood clots to dissolve. Those have to be rid by the body itself and it’s not immediately clear when that will happen.
“There is no telling if it could be tomorrow or 10 years from now to be 100 percent,” Greene said.
Regardless, Greene said he is feeling great physically, both health-wise and with regard to his throwing. In fact, he figures he is actually ahead of schedule rather than behind.
"Life couldn't be better," he said.
Prior to the injury, Greene had a terrific start to 2015. To wit: he allowed just one run in his first three starts, prompting many in baseball circles to immediately take notice; who is this guy? The problems began shortly thereafter, however. He was roughed up in his next few starts and then in May, he was diagnosed with mild ulnar neuritis, as a result of the numbness in his fingers. How much of the struggles were related to the injury is unclear, but Greene revealed that he had been trying to pitch through pain.
That he is healthy now is a significant matter for the Tigers, who expect him to compete for the fifth starter spot this spring, despite the fact that many feel young lefthander Daniel Norris has the inside track.
Manager Brad Ausmus has been particularly emphatic about including Greene among the list of candidates.
“I don’t want this guy to be a forgotten man,” Ausmus said Saturday.
Whether he can nail down a spot in the rotation or carve out a relief role, Greene just wants to earn a place on this team and prove he can pitch in the majors again after an injury-hampered 2015 season.
“My mindset going into this is I want to pitch in the big leagues,” Greene said. “Whenever they tell me to get guys out I’m gonna go in there and do whatever I can to get as many guys out as possible.”
The Tigers will be watching closely. Ausmus made that clear from day one.
“He’s become, unfortunately, kind of a forgotten guy in the media,” Ausmus said. “But we haven’t forgotten about him.”