Seth Greisinger had just won his first start this season, and he earned it by pitching well.
But after his Opening Day victory over Louisville last Thursday, Greisinger was rather matter of fact about the win.
“It's a good victory, and I'm happy about the win,” the 27-year-old right-hander said. “But it's the first game of a long season. I've had my trouble throughout the season [in the past], so I'll be happy when the season is over and I'm still healthy.”
Greisinger's talk about “trouble” in seasons past was an understatement.
The Tigers' top draft pick in 1996, Greisinger took just two professional seasons to reach Detroit, and by the end of 1998 he seemed to have settled into a long-term spot in the Tiger rotation.
But that's when Greisinger's troubles began. Elbow problems in the spring of 1999 resulted in “Tommy John” surgery on his right elbow in June. He missed all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons before finally returning to the mound at Double-A Erie last April.
Greisinger pitched well in Erie, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.29 ERA in four starts to earn a promotion to the Detroit rotation. But Greisinger struggled with the Tigers, going 2-2 with a 6.21 ERA before being demoted to Toledo.
He made just three starts with the Hens before another injury, shoulder tendinitis, ended his season July 11.
So after four straight injury-plagued seasons, one start won't be enough to make Greisinger happy. His goal for 2003 is to complete a full year in good health.
“I'd like to have a healthy first half and see if my arm strength comes along,” he said. “My first and foremost goal is to stay healthy the whole year.”
Greisinger said he is a different pitcher from the young hotshot of 1998, and a situation in Thursday's opener proved it.
“I think I'm a more mature pitcher,” he said. “When I had runners on first and third and no outs [in the second inning], I was more than happy to throw one pitch and get a double play [and allow only one run to score]. In the past I might have battled a little too much just to save that run and maybe started a rally inning.”
Greisinger admits that he's even a different pitcher from last season.
“I think if I can get halfway through the season healthy, my fastball velocity will come back and I'll gain arm strength,” he said. “The difference from last year is that my curveball is more consistent. My elbow is a lot stronger this year than last year.
“Last year the only curveball I had really was a first-pitch, show-me curveball. This year my arm is a lot stronger, so I have no problem just letting go of my curveball, throwing it in there and not worrying about where it goes or how hard it breaks.”
Hens manager Larry Parrish liked what he saw in Greisinger's effort Thursday. “He did the things that he had to do [to be successful],” Parrish said. “He has to mix it up; he's got a good change-up that he has to use, and he has to locate his fastball.”
Even though the parent Tigers are struggling, Greisinger said he doesn't worry about a return to Detroit.
“That's up to them; all I can control is what I do down here,” Greisinger said. “I threw strikes, and I probably fell behind on first-pitch strikes more than I wanted to. But they wanted us to start with a fastball down the middle knee-high and just work ahead.”
With the long road Greisinger took to return to pitching, did he ever think about quitting?
“No, because I'm still having fun,” he said. “The toughest part was that third year, when I really didn't see any improvement. But ever since then I've seen improvement, and it's been encouraging.
“If it ever got to a point where I came out here and threw the ball and just didn't care one way or another, then I might have to ask myself [if I want to quit].”
Greisinger said the fun in pitching comes in part from winning, so he did finally smile after Thursday's victory.
“Winning is still important,” Greisinger said. “But I just want a healthy season. All year I want to make all of my starts, and make all of my pitches, and see improvement throughout the year.”
Yesterday's game between the Mud Hens and Indianapolis at Fifth Third Field was postponed by rain.
No make-up date for the game has been set. The two teams will play a single game today starting at noon, with yesterday's starters - Indy's Mark Guerra and Toledo's Shane Loux - expected to start.
The Indians do not return to Toledo until June 3-4. The two teams also will play in Toledo on Aug. 6-7 and Aug. 31-Sept. 1. Fans with tickets to yesterday's game can exchange them for another Hens game this season.