KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Days before the Kansas City Royals traded Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers four winters ago, Greinke did what he often does. He spoke his mind. Only this time it was premeditated rather than just blurted out.
Greinke said he liked Kansas City as a place to live and play, but “at least put a team together that has a fighting chance.”
Needless to say, that didn’t endear him to his employers. Greinke has admitted several times since that interview he was trying to spark a trade. It worked. He was sent to a team that would make the playoffs the following season, the Brewers.
It’s all ancient history, of course. Now, he’s in his second season playing a bravura second fiddle to Clayton Kershaw on the Dodgers, and it’s gone well for all sides.
The Dodgers certainly aren’t complaining. Up until June, Greinke was on a Cy Young trajectory and he still looks like an All-Star lock.
After Monday night’s 5-3 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, Greinke was asked about the reception he received here, his first as a Dodger. He went along with it good-naturedly. Greinke faced the Royals here twice in 2012, once with Milwaukee and once with the Los Angeles Angels.
The fans seemed to greet Greinke warmly and dozens of his jerseys were sprinkled throughout the stands. When he left the game in the sixth inning -- his shortest start in over a month -- some fans gave him a standing ovation and others booed.
“It’s weird. I mean, I pitched good last time I was here and they cheered. I pitched good the first time, they cheered,” Greinke said. “[Tonight] they cheered when they announced my name and, when I gave up the runs, they booed.”
Did he find that odd?
“I’m not a psychologist,” he said.
On his exit from Kansas City, he admitted, “I was pretty rude on the way out, so they have every right to be mad at me.”
He has moved on. So have the Royals, who are playing the Dodgers for just the third time ever. They are only two games out in the AL Central.
Greinke, 30, is a different pitcher than when he won the Cy Young here five years ago. He doesn’t throw the 95 mph fastball that used to give hitters fits, and he rarely breaks off the dive-bombing slider that used to give them even more fits. But he’s smart. He’s preserving his arm and having similar results with diminished stuff.
By the end of May, he looked like the All-Star Game starter. He was 7-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 10 games. In the six games since, he’s 2-3 with a 4.22 ERA and 37 strikeouts. Greinke, who seems to clean dirt out of his cleats several times a start, said he’s thinking of going to new shoes for his next start. He had avoided it as long as possible since he was pitching well.
Otherwise, he said, there’s no discernible pattern, no easy fix to why he hasn’t been quite as dominant. Monday he said he simply had no viable off-speed pitches and when he did throw one, it was “like a favor” to the hitter. Reduced to a one-pitch pitcher, he wasn’t effective. The Royals had 11 hits and he only struck out four.
He and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly agreed that several of his pitches were far from the mark, particularly a couple of fastballs down the middle to No. 9 hitter Jarrod Dyson, who went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored against him.
The Dodgers nearly rallied back after Greinke’s bad night, but they ran out of time. That Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie was able to get through first four innings in 28 pitches didn’t help. Guthrie is a strike thrower who is susceptible to giving up his hits -- he gave up more than any pitcher in the league last year -- so the Dodgers clearly had an aggressive game plan.
“It just didn’t work tonight,” Mattingly said.
They also hit into bad luck at times. Yasiel Puig hit a towering fly to center that Dyson caught right before he slammed into the wall. Puig also hit a slicing line drive to right field that happened to go where Cain was standing.
You can’t expect Greinke to pitch well 34 times a season. That doesn’t happen often. You can’t expect the Dodgers’ offense to fire on all cylinders on a nightly basis.
But as long as this team keeps itself on track -- it hasn’t lost a series since June 4 -- it should be able to avoid any situations where its players try to talk their way off the team, as Greinke did back in the day.