Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds can't stop Kolten Wong in loss to Milwaukee Brewers

·6 min read

When Hunter Greene was out for a month, recovering from a right shoulder strain, he focused on some of his weaknesses.

Greene knew he’d make only a handful of starts before the end of his rookie season, but other than returning healthy, he said his top goal was finding ways to “upgrade myself” and “add to my toolbox.”

There were signs of that in the Cincinnati Reds’ 5-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, Greene's second start since returning from the IL. He gave up two runs in five innings before the Brewers added to their lead against the bullpen.

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Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene (21) signals two outs in the second inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene (21) signals two outs in the second inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Look at Greene’s first-inning at-bat against Rowdy Tellez as an example. After falling into a 2-0 count, Greene pumped a 99-mph fastball past Tellez. He followed with a changeup for a called strike, an elevated 100-mph fastball that was fouled and a changeup that froze Tellez for a called third strike. It was Greene’s first strikeout of the season with his changeup, according to Statcast.

"I’ve been working on that pitch," Greene said. "That is going to be a great weapon for the rest of this year and the future. Really happy with that. When you face a team a lot of times, especially in the big leagues, you have to come with something different every outing."

Greene will continue to be the pitcher who leans on his triple-digit fastball. That’s the pitch that pushed him to the Majors. His slider has been his best pitch at times this season, a great pairing with his fastball. His changeup remains a work in progress, but it’s one that can help him against left-handed batters.

Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich (22) swings and misses in the third inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.
Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich (22) swings and misses in the third inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

He's had many conversations with pitching coach Derek Johnson about increasing his changeup usage. It takes vulnerability to work on a pitch at the big-league level, but the Reds are confident it will help him over the long-term.

"You watch all the great pitchers, they have that pitch," Greene said. "To have it as an out pitch too, that’s going to make the slider and the fastball that much better. It’s great to be able to rely on velocity and having a slider, but I’m trying to be the best version of myself, the best pitcher I can be."

Said Reds Manager David Bell: "The couple that I saw tonight were the best ones that I’ve seen, so it’s a great step."

There was a three-batter stretch that cost Greene on Thursday. He walked Hunter Renfroe to begin the second inning, the first walk he issued in his last three starts. Kolten Wong followed with a two-run homer on an elevated 98-mph fastball, which ended Greene’s scoreless streak at 14 innings.

"I thought it was a competitive pitch," Greene said, "but just leaked a little bit over the plate."

Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong (16) runs the bases on his third home run of the night in the eighth inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.
Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong (16) runs the bases on his third home run of the night in the eighth inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

Greene walked Andrew McCutchen on seven pitches following the homer, which prompted a visit from Johnson, the pitching coach. Greene proceeded to strike out his next four hitters and retired 12 of his final 14 batters.

Pitching in front of a crowd of 9,889 at Great American Ball Park, Greene permitted two hits, two runs and three walks. He struck out eight across five innings, his third consecutive start with at least eight strikeouts.

After a trip on the injured list, Greene’s fastball has evolved into a different type of weapon. The radar gun lights up the same, throwing 15 pitches above 100 mph Thursday, but hitters have a much more difficult time with it. Brewers batters whiffed on 16 of their 29 swings against Greene’s fastball and this was the fourth time they’ve faced him this year.

"It's funny, in the past, and I’m sure a lot of people even say it now, ‘your fastball is straight,’ or ‘it doesn’t play like 100-plus,’" Greene said. "I always laugh at that because I mean, shoot, I got a lot of whiffs and a lot of swings and misses throughout the year and my whole career on my fastball. I have a lot of confidence in that pitch, and I feel like I’m getting a lot better at locating it."

In Greene's two starts back from the IL, the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals have whiffed 29 times on his fastball in 59 swings (49.2%).

"Continuing to just bully hitters with that pitch," Greene said. "If it gets hit, come right back to him and throw that same pitch. Just because one guy hits it in the lineup doesn’t mean the other eight will."

Nine-time All-Star Dave Concepción waves to fans between innings of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.
Nine-time All-Star Dave Concepción waves to fans between innings of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

It was a career night for Wong, homering three times against three different pitchers. He lined another elevated fastball just above the right-field fence for a two-run homer in the sixth inning versus Reds reliever Dauri Moreta and he hammered a slider in the eighth inning for a 381-foot solo homer in the eighth inning against Joel Kuhnel.

The three-homer night gave Wong a career-high 15 homers on the season. His five RBI, driving in all the Brewers’ runs, were a career high.

"I’ve seen Kolten play for a long time," said Bell, who was on the Cardinals' coaching staff when Wong played in St. Louis. "He’s a really good player, great player. But that was a special night."

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Rowdy Tellez (11) shakes his head after a called third strike by umpire Mark Carlson (6) in the first inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.
Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Rowdy Tellez (11) shakes his head after a called third strike by umpire Mark Carlson (6) in the first inning of the MLB National game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

The Reds failed to produce much offense against Woodruff, who struck out 11 across six innings. It was Woodruff’s third consecutive start with a double-digit strikeout total. TJ Friedl and Alejo Lopez were the only Reds hitters who didn’t strike out against him.

"His fastball is just really special," Bell said. "You know what it’s going to do, you’ve seen it a lot and you still can’t square it up. It’s that kind of fastball."

Friedl drew a leadoff walk in the sixth inning, the first batter to reach base against Woodruff since Friedl drew a walk in the third inning. As he attempted to steal base on the next pitch, Jonathan India hit a fly ball to right field. Friedl had trouble finding the ball and a routine flyout to right field turned into a double play.

Kyle Farmer, the next batter after the double play, hit a solo homer to left field.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Kolten Wong hits three homers vs. Reds, Hunter Greene loses to Brewers