It’s been so long since Zack Greinke recorded a win… Hell, it seems like it’s been forever when the Royals have scored a run while Greinke was in the game. After Sunday’s tour de force, there will be an inclination to summarily declare, “He’s back!”
I’m not going to declare him back to 2009 form, but his approach was certain from his Cy Young vintage. Plus, it was certainly an impressive performance against a strong offense.
Last week, I broke down the reasons I felt Greinke was struggling and how he had been changing his approach to more reflect what he had done in 2009. He continued that trend yesterday.
The slider was his money pitch on Sunday. He threw 22 sliders, 18 of them for strikes. Of those strikes, eight of them were swing and miss strikes. That’s exceptional because of those pitches, only half were actually in the strikezone. The Reds are actually a really strong offensive team this year. They lead the NL in batting average, runs scored and OPS but on Sunday they went up there hacking. Sometimes it works – Joey Votto saw a grand total of eight pitches in four plate appearances but parked two of them over the wall. More often, it doesn’t – Jay Bruce saw 12 pitches in his four plate appearances and struck out twice. His other two outs came when he put the first pitch in play.
The Bruce sequences highlight the problem batters had with Greinke last year. Hitters went up there offering at pitches early in the count. They had to, otherwise Greinke would jump ahead. If that happened, the hitter was as good as out. In Bruce’s second plate appearance, he was going to be patient. He took strike one, then looked as Greinke went inside with the second pitch and then away on the third to fall behind 2-1. Then Greinke spun in a tasty slider that Bruce couldn’t pull the trigger on for strike two. A low slider finished him off.
Yes, the slider was definitely working on Sunday. It was brutal and efficient.
The other point I made last week was his curve hadn’t been as effective. He only threw 11 curves on Sunday, but the Reds weren’t offering. While eight of them were strikes, Cincinnati hitters only swung at three… And they put all three in play. He got a fly out, a ground out and gave up a single on those balls. A mixed bag, as it was.
It’s interesting how Greinke used his curve in that he didn’t feature it until the Reds came around the second time. Since this is his least effective pitch, it makes perfect sense to keep it in the holster the first go around. He went to it five times over the last three innings.
It’s fine the Reds weren’t swinging at the curve. He was throwing it for a strike and that’s really what matters. Since his curve is his least effective pitch, it’s probably better that the Reds weren’t offering.
As I wrote last week, Greinke had been forgoing his curve and seemed to be more in favor of his change-up early in the season. Over his last couple of starts, he had decided to revert back to his 2009 sequences where he threw more curves and fewer changes. He kept that pattern on Sunday, throwing only two change-ups all afternoon – both were well out of the strikezone.
Overall, Greinke threw 105 pitches, 77 of which were strikes. Over 73% of his pitches were strikes, which far outpaces his rate of 64% for the season. (Last year, he was at 63% of all pitches for strikes.) Certainly, the Reds helped with that percentage as 23% of Greinke’s strikes were the swing and miss variety. For the season, he’s at 12%. Last year, he was getting a swing and miss on 17% of his strikes.
His final line was certainly reminiscent of 2009: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 12 SO
The only damage was done by those Bruce home runs. That will happen in Cincinnati, especially in day games.
So while I’m not prepared to declare Greinke 100% back to form, this was certainly his best start since early May. Then, he had a run of three starts where he was on top of his game. Hopefully, he’s ready to go on another – this time more extended – run.
Perhaps more importantly, this was the first time all year, Greinke came out and just flat dominated. He’s now made 14 starts in 2010 and he finally looked like the pitcher he was in 2009. And that’s very encouraging news.