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Hunter Greene off to rough start, but give him time

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There is an eagerness for Hunter Greene to become the pitcher the Cincinnati Reds drafted him to be. I sensed it all around me at his fourth start of the season Saturday night for the Dayton Dragons when I was at Fifth Third Field to cover the game for the Dayton Daily News.

Greene has the arm talent to be great, and the Reds’ need a great arm at the front of their rotation soon. Will it be Greene? Will Tyler Mahle or Sal Romano become that guy? Remember, it took Johnny Cueto about 60 starts to start throwing like an ace.

There aren’t many Doc Goodens in the world who pitch in an All-Star Game at age 19 and win the Cy Young Award at age 20. That’s unlikely to happen for Hunter Greene or anybody else.

Gooden pitched 218 innings for the New York Mets when he was 19. This is a different era of protecting arms and building endurance slowly. Greene was on a 65-pitch limit Saturday. Even if he pitches for 15 years in the majors, he will likely pitch fewer than 200 innings many more times than he ever exceeds that number. Only 15 major-league pitchers surpassed 200 innings last year, and the leader had 214 1/3.

Greene has much to learn about pitching before he makes an impact even in the Midwest League. But after talking with him on Friday and again Saturday night after the game, Greene comes across as a pitcher intent on figuring out how to pitch. How long that will take is speculation.

“Not ideal — it happens,” Greene said of his two innings when he sat down Saturday night in a conference room next to the Dragons’ clubhouse. “Obviously, I’m working on things. I thought I pitched really well. I executed well.”

That’s where many would differ in opinion from Greene. But he has a point. He threw 60 pitches in two innings and allowed four runs on four singles and two walks. His ERA stands at 14.63 through four starts.

But the TinCaps didn’t exactly rough him up. After a hard-hit single to start the game, the hits that followed were a broken-bat blooper into shallow right, a blooper behind the mound in no-man’s land, a soft liner to center and infield single deep in the hole at shortstop. Two walks didn’t help.

Greene said his mechanics were better and his fastball movement was better — something I heard a scout from another organization dispute. Either way, obviously a kid who could blow his 98-100 mph fastball past high school hitters has work to do in creating fastball movement. Even low Class A hitters can hit a straight fastball.

“It looked more downhill,” Greene said of his fastball. “I think I moved in and out pretty well, I established inside early, threw a couple high fastballs that guys swung at.”

Greene can strike people out. He has 17 in eight innings. As the fastball movement and location improve along with his slider and changeup, Greene will look more like a pitcher and less like a thrower. When that happens remains to be seen. But it’s hard to imagine this kid won’t figure it out.

His pitching coach for the second straight season, Seth Etherton, is convinced that Greene is on the right path. I’ve spoken with him twice about Greene, and both times he has said when Greene learns how to prepare with a solid routine, he will make it.

Greene is not as far along as some of his teammates, all of whom are older and many with college experience. But don’t look at Greene’s ERA and think any less of him. It’s way to early for that.

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