Greinke (gulp) is next

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Let’s say you’re a Red Sox reserve player, which makes you one of four guys: Jeremy Hermida, Mike Lowell, Bill Hall and Jason Varitek.

You haven’t played in a week (except for Hermida, who got in Friday night because David Ortiz was ejected and lined a single), and while you’ve tried to stay sharp with extra batting practice and hitting off the tee during games, you feel a little like a ’91 Buick: The rust can’t help but show.

Then you hear the good news: Terry Francona says there’s a pretty good chance some of you are going to play Saturday night. Can’t wait to get in there, right?

Ah, but there’s a catch, the kind that might incline you to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head: You’ll be facing Zack Greinke. You know, the guy who marched through a gantlet of his teammates Friday night to receive the AL Cy Young Award.

So, in essence, you go from spitting sunflower seeds to facing a guy with a mid-90s fastball that he can locate with the same precision of someone fitting in the last piece to a jigsaw puzzle, a slider that tumbles through a trapdoor, and a slow curve that starts laughing at you even before it turns you into a contortionist. Oh, and did we mention he‘s added a changeup that made him almost as unhittable at the end of the season (5-0, 1.29 ERA) as he was at the beginning (8-1, 0.84)?

The Sox saw Greinke only once last season, in September, and that was enough. He treated them the same way he treated everybody else: six scoreless innings, two hits, three walks, five strikeouts.

Now, here’s the truly scary part: His teammates think he can be even better than last season, in part because he will throw the changeup more.

“How it plays out, who knows?” Royals pitching coach Bob McClure told Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. “But he’s a better pitcher now. He’s more prepared. He knows the hitters better. All that, you put it together, and the guy’s better.”

Varitek seems the most likely candidate to play Saturday night, with a day game Sunday. Although, a look at the numbers would suggest that maybe the Sox would be better off giving Martinez Sunday off. Martinez is batting .341 (14 for 41) lifetime against Greinke, and did even better against him in his ’09 breakout season, batting .500 (6 for 12).

Varitek, meanwhile, ended last season batting .134 (13 for 97), lost his everyday job to Martinez, and this spring has on his heart the serious illness of his father, Joe. Varitek said in spring training that he tries to block it out on the field, but Jason, who turns 38 on Sunday, is a father himself, so you can imagine how he is struggling.

The silver lining for the Sox? The last time they faced Greinke, they ran out Paul Byrd to face him, and the Royals scored five times in the first inning. Saturday night, the Sox are pitching Josh Beckett, who is 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA in seven starts against the Royals and has not allowed a home run to a KC batter in 197 plate appearances.