Ever since Zack Greinke admitted to dealing with social anxiety disorder and depression six years ago, it has become a source of occasional derision from detractors and consternation from supporters.
Was he someone who couldn’t handle pitching under the pressure of a pennant race or in a big city? Would his issues resurface and cause him to bolt his team again? Let’s get a bit of perspective, shall we.
When he received his diagnosis, Greinke was 22 years old, a prodigy entering his third major-league season, coming off a rough year and having no fun whatsoever playing baseball. Always an introvert, he wasn’t enjoying being around his teammates and was clashing with the Kansas City Royals' pitching coach, Guy Hansen.
Now Greinke is 29, the richest right-handed pitcher in baseball and entering the highest-profile phase of his career, as the standard bearer for the Dodgers’ rush back to contention. You never know how players will react to heightened pressure -- who would have thought Albert Pujols would bend under it? -- but there are some things to like about where Greinke is.
Pitching 30 miles from Dodger Stadium at the end of last season, Greinke was 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his final eight starts with the Angels, at that team’s most critical moment of need. He also looked anything but uncomfortable speaking to a throng of media members at Tuesday afternoon’s introduction at Dodger Stadium.
“This doesn't bother me,” Greinke said. “What bothers me is one at a time and answering the same questions over again. The answers are just going to get worse, each time you ask it."
He smiled. He was blunt, friendly. He complimented Dodgers’ executives. He looked far more comfortable than he had even four months earlier, when he arrived in Anaheim and declined an opening statement, making scant eye contact at his introductory news conference.
Washington Nationals pitcher Dan Haren got to know Greinke in Anaheim at the end of last year and the two quickly became friends, sharing a love for golf, good wine and hitting. Haren said the Dodgers are lucky to have Greinke.
“I think Zack is a bit of an introvert,” Haren said. “That said, I think most gifted people tend to be. He doesn’t really care what people think of him, but he’s very confident in what he can do.”
What impressed Haren about Greinke’s pitching was the rare combination of repertoire and approach.
“His scouting reports are very statistically based, but most pitchers with exceptional stuff can’t harness it,” Haren said. “He can attack hitters with ‘plus’ stuff and put the ball where he wants it. It’s a special combination.”
Greinke admits he’s “more serious than loose,” and he may not win the prize for the best dugout gag. He might not even exchange a lot of idle chit-chat with his teammates. But worries about his ability to handle big-city pressure may have been overblown. Agent Casey Close said it wasn’t much of an issue in talking to teams. Aside from calls out of New York or Boston, they had a willingness to listen to anyone.
“He’s a very unique individual,” Close said. “He’s got a ton of personality, he’s very competitive and I think he’s found a way of bouncing around, from the Midwest, back out here, and he’s found a way to find that comfort zone and be successful.”
Besides, Californians have a reputation for accepting people who are different, so maybe this is where he belonged all along.