Closer Shane Greene gets a chance to finish games that matter in Atlanta
By Paul Newberry
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Shane Greene has emerged as one of baseball’s top closers.
Now, he’s got a chance to finish games that really matter.
Greene was among three relievers acquired by the first-place Atlanta Braves before the trade deadline, and he’ll be assuming a high-profile role right away after working in relative anonymity with the woeful Detroit Tigers.
“I’ll be out there in the ninth,” Greene said bluntly before Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds.
With one of baseball’s most exciting young teams and holding a comfortable lead in the NL East, the Braves addressed their most pressing need by totally revamping the bullpen at the deadline.
Greene will take over for struggling Luke Jackson as Atlanta’s closer, Chris Martin assumes the eighth-inning setup role, and one-time closer Mark Melancon can expect to get the nod in the seventh when the Braves are looking to close out games with a 1-2-3 punch.
“This organization obviously has some issues they wanted to fix,” Greene said. “We’re here for that reason. We’re all looking forward to getting out there and getting the job done.”
The 30-year-old Greene is a late bloomer, taking over as Detroit’s closer in 2018 (he had 32 saves but a 5.12 ERA) before a true breakout performance this season. He had 22 saves and a dazzling 1.18 ERA for the Tigers, surrendering just 21 hits in 38 innings. He made the All-Star team for the first time, though it didn’t do the Tigers much good.
Saddled with the worst record in the big leagues, it became clear that Detroit was looking to move Greene ahead of the deadline.
“The best way to describe it is your girlfriend texts you and says, ‘We need to talk,’” Greene quipped. “Then you call her up and she doesn’t answer. So you sit by your phone to see what happens.”
Greene, a Florida native, was thrilled when the call finally came.
He was heading to Atlanta, the defending NL East champion that went into a series against the Reds with a 6 1/2-game lead over both Washington and Philadelphia.
“I couldn’t have been happier,” Greene said. “I grew up a Braves fan, so coming here to be a part of this team, a part of this ride, is pretty special.”
The 33-year-old Martin has followed a similar career path. He had brief, unsuccessful appearances with Colorado in 2014 and the New York Yankees in 2015 before finally sticking with Texas a year ago, working 46 games. The 6-foot-8 right-hander really blossomed this season, turning in some dominating numbers over his last 19 appearances — 24 strikeouts and just one walk — with a fastball that averages 96 mph.
Overall, Martin had four saves and a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings for the Rangers, with 43 strikeouts and four walks.
“This is my fourth or fifth team, so I’m kind of used to this,” Martin said. “I’m just ready to get to know these guys and get to work.”
The 34-year-old Melancon was one of baseball’s top closers in Pittsburgh, but he failed to deliver those numbers after signing a four-year, $62 million contract with San Francisco after the 2016 season. Injuries were a major culprit, but right-hander insisted he’s healthy now and looking forward to whatever role the Braves have for him.
He waived a no-trade clause to come to Atlanta.
“It was kind of shocking,” Melancon said. “But if you would’ve asked me the day before which teams I would’ve said yes to, this would’ve been at the top of the list. I’m not just saying that. I love the energy this club brings.”
The Braves optioned three relievers to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for their new additions: A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka and Jeremy Walker. Those who remain can expect to take on new roles, though Sean Newcomb still figures to get some late work as one of two left-handers in the bullpen.
Jackson leads the team with 17 saves, but he’s blown eight other chances and seen his ERA climb to 3.96. In what might turn out to be his last save opportunity of the season, he surrendered two runs in the ninth without getting an out on Wednesday, squandering a 4-2 lead at Washington. The Braves bounced back to win the game in the 10th on Josh Donaldson’s homer.
Anthony Swarzak, who got off to a strong start after being acquired from Seattle, also has struggled in recent games. Like Jackson, his role will change.
“They’ll all work earlier now,” manager Brian Snitker said, referring to a group that also includes right-hander Josh Tomlin and lefty Jerry Blevins. “It’s good to have those options.”
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