Zack Greinke likes Dodgers' trajectory

LOS ANGELES -- Zack Greinke had pitched well in a frustrating loss in Cincinnati and, as reporters gathered around his locker poking and prodding for why the Los Angeles Dodgers have been so disappointing, he became a bit testy.

Greinke is typically blunt but rarely impatient. On this particular Sunday afternoon at the Great American Ballpark, he was simmering, it would seem, but in his expressionless way. He was mad over what he perceived as people "jumping all over" his teammates.

"I mean, people expect us to win every game, win 10 games in a row," he said.

As each day passes, the questions get less pointed. Everyone else is beginning to pick up on what the team has felt for a while. At long last, the Dodgers are on the move, step by deliberate step. It's subtle -- nothing like the 42-8 magic of last June and July so far -- but it's tangible.

As Dodgers manager Don Mattingly replied when someone asked him, bluntly, why his team is playing better, "We've caught the ball better." True, as the Dodgers have had the best fielding percentage in baseball the past 22 games after a brutally sloppy start to the season.

They've also hit the ball better and pitched the ball consistently well, particularly when their starters have been in the game.

The upshot isn't spectacular, but it's clearly progress: 7-3 and having chopped 4½ games off the San Francisco Giants' division lead in 10 days.

"I feel we've been playing well for a while now," Greinke said after holding a dangerous Colorado Rockies lineup down for six innings in the Dodgers' 4-2 win Tuesday night.

You'd have to consider Greinke (9-3, 2.57 ERA) among the candidates, with Tim Hudson, Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright, to start next month's All-Star game for the National League. You'd also have to consider him the most important pitcher on the Dodgers' roster in the first half.

He has rarely shown the dominance that Clayton Kershaw is showing routinely now that he's healthy, but his consistency is machine-like. He has gotten the ball at least into the seventh inning in seven of his most recent starts. He has given up fewer than four earned runs in all but one start this year.

Tuesday was one of those nights that could have easily crumbled around a pitcher with less resolve. Colorado was squaring up on pitches fairly routinely, truth be told. It had base runners all over the place, including the bases loaded with nobody out in the sixth. Greinke's stuff wasn't dominant.

But Greinke has rare powers of concentration. As things get faster around him, he looks as if he's more deliberate in his motions.

"I think Zack just executes. He just makes pitches. That's what he tries to do all the time. I think that's why he's special and why guys in that category are special," Mattingly said. "They just make pitches, doesn't matter the situation."

There is, of course, one big worry that popped up Tuesday. Hanley Ramirez, just starting to find a groove at the plate, looked to be in considerable pain after he took a sharp grounder off his ring finger trying to make a play in the seventh inning. He left the game and, while X-rays proved negative, he could be out for several games, perhaps until the Dodgers reach Kansas City four games from now and he can serve as the designated hitter.

Maybe that will be the blow that sends the Dodgers reeling in the other direction. As Greinke admitted, the Dodgers have won "a couple in a row, but that could change tomorrow, too."

There's always that. You can feel like your brightest days are just beginning, but nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.