Zack Greinke the quiet and artful Dodger

Even before he embarked on a scoreless-innings streak that is approaching the Major League Baseball record, Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers was one of the most interesting pitchers in the game.
The Dodgers' Zack Greinke does not say much and prefers to let his right arm do all his talking. In that regard, that right arm has been mighty loud in keeping opponent's bats silent.   Mitchell Layton / AFP
The Dodgers' Zack Greinke does not say much and prefers to let his right arm do all his talking. In that regard, that right arm has been mighty loud in keeping opponent's bats silent. Mitchell Layton / AFP

Even before he embarked on a scoreless-innings streak that is approaching the Major League Baseball record, Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers was one of the most interesting pitchers in the game.

His career nearly ended before it had really started, in 2006, when he pitched in only three games while battling depression and social-anxiety disorder.

He received help, unusual in a game that encourages players to “fight through” mental problems, returned to the Kansas City Royals in 2007 and by 2009 was the best pitcher in the American League, receiving the Cy Young Award.

Six years later, Greinke is in the running for a National League Cy Young as he shuts down team after team.

He is a fierce competitor who has feuded with several teams but remains reticent on a personal level. He prefers to avoid reporters and, when he cannot, rarely makes eye contact.

Quirks notwithstanding, he is the hottest pitcher in baseball, as attested by his 43-inning scoreless streak that covers six starts since June 18 and is 16 innings short of the major-league record of 59, set in 1988 by another Dodger, Orel Hershiser.

As is usually the case, Greinke did not have much to say to reporters about the streak.

After eight scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals last weekend he was asked what the streak means to him: “Nothin’,” he said. “Don’t ever think about it.”

Others are more forthcoming.

AJ Ellis, who caught the final innings of Greinke’s start at Washington, said the pitcher told him: “All my stuff is pretty nasty right now.” Ellis then added: “He wasn’t exaggerating.”

Don Mattingly, the Dodgers manager, said Greinke is a master of moving the ball around the strike zone and can spot all four of his pitches: a 95-miles-per-hour fastball, curve, change-up and slider.

“Zack gets the ball to both sides of the plate,” Mattingly told the Los Angeles Times.

“He’s got the power change. He’s got a good slider. He’s got a lot to cover, for a hitter.”

The advanced-metric analysts, who tend to frame modern baseball discussions, suggest Greinke owes much of his streak to the fielders behind him, as well as to the tendency of umpires to see strikes when his pitches are not actually in the strike zone.

Washington’s Bryce Harper complained about the latter when he said it is easier to pitch when umpires are calling strikes “six inches off the plate”.

During his streak, Greinke has struck out 42 batters, which takes pressure off a defence, and allowed only 19 hits and four walks.

His earned-run average is 1.30 which, if he can keep it there, would be the lowest in baseball since the pitcher’s mound was lowered in 1969.

The right-handed Greinke is part of the most formidable 1-2 Dodgers pitching punch with left-hander Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner who is still considered the ace of the staff.

Greinke has a fine chance to extend his streak tonight when he faces the New York Mets, who rank 29th in scoring among the 30 MLB teams.

If he puts up another batch of zeroes, he probably would need two additional starts to break Hershiser’s record. MLB has ruled that scoreless-inning records revert back to the last full inning.

Thus, a record would require 60 scoreless innings, or 17 more than Greinke has at the moment.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @NatSportUAE

Published: July 23, 2015 04:00 AM

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