Zack Greinke: No longer 'stressed out'

SAN DIEGO – Remember when the Los Angeles Dodgers were still courting Zack Greinke three winters ago and people kept wondering how comfortable he would be pitching in the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area?

Well, whatever anxieties people presumed would resurface certainly haven’t been evident. In fact, as the months go by, the Dodgers’ right-handed ace to complement Clayton Kershaw looks more and more at ease wearing a Dodgers uniform. Greinke smiled his way through seven dominant innings in a 3-0 win over the San Diego Padres Friday night.

He smiled when opposing pitcher Andrew Cashner fell to one knee swinging wildly at one of his pitches. He was practically beside himself when what appeared to be a two-run single instead went directly into Howie Kendrick's glove.

And, afterward, Greinke talked about how relaxed he is so far this season, a different sensation from most Aprils for the highly focused pitcher. Of course, who wouldn’t be relaxed with a 3-0 record and 1.35 ERA? Who wouldn’t be relaxed pitching in a division he has practically mastered. Since joining the Dodgers, Greinke is 21-1 with a 1.88 ERA against the NL West, including 5-0 with a 1.58 ERA against San Diego.

“I was getting stressed out in spring training. I was pitching bad and nothing was working as planned,” Greinke said. “So, I just stopped worrying about it so much.”

Free agency and the allure of greater riches elsewhere have a way of taking players out of their comfort zones, so we’ll find out how committed Greinke is to the Dodgers -- and how committed they are to him -- if he opts out of his contract this November and tests the market. But right now, his performance is helping both his and the Dodgers' bottom lines.

The Dodgers have only gotten seven complete innings out of a starter three times in 16 games this season and Greinke has pitched two of those games. Kershaw, beset by bad luck and still working to master all his pitches, has yet to go seven complete.

Catcher Yasmani Grandal, a former Padre, used to be on the wrong end of Greinke's NL West numbers, and he’d rather be behind the plate than standing over it when the Dodgers' extreme control pitcher is working.

“He’s probably the best righty I’ve ever caught in terms of command,” Grandal said. “If you put your glove there, he’s probably going to hit it, but at the same time he knows his plan and what he wants to do and sometimes he misses on purpose.”

The Dodgers have looked a lot more like you would have expected them to look the past four games, building around pitching and defense, than they did when they were averaging six runs a game during their seven-game winning streak. With Yasiel Puig again tweaking that troublesome left hamstring Friday night, it looks like that might be the pattern for a while.

Kershaw’s building-block start Wednesday, Greinke's continued dominance, and the emergence of young reliever Yimi Garcia are starting to give the Dodgers confidence they can win a lot of games without scoring a lot of runs. Garcia picked up his first career save with another breezy inning, this time the ninth. He has struck out 16 batters while walking three in 9 2/3 innings and has a 0.93 ERA.