SAN DIEGO -- Are the Los Angeles Dodgers costing themselves a chance to retain one of the best pitchers in baseball?
You had to wonder, at least a little, after hearing Zack Greinke talk about this stretch of futility he is stuck in, with some of the finest pitching in his career netting him nil and mostly losses for the Dodgers. In his seven starts since May 5, including Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres, Greinke has a 2.28 ERA but an 0-2 record, and the Dodgers have lost four times.
In those five weeks, the Dodgers’ lineup has given Greinke more than one run to work with just twice and more than two runs just once, two starts ago in the mile-high atmosphere of Coors Field. It kind of reminds Greinke of the bad old days. Over a major league career that now has spanned 12 seasons, Greinke has enjoyed pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers and both teams named for Los Angeles.
The one stop he has said he did not enjoy, on the whole, was where it all began, Kansas City. He won the 2009 Cy Young award there, and the Royals lost an average of 97 games a year when he wore their uniform. Greinke also left baseball for most of one season there while dealing with social anxiety.
Greinke has the right to opt out of his contract following this season, a move that seems more and more probable. He has the fourth-best ERA (1.95) in the major leagues, and he’ll hit free agency at 32, a year younger than James Shields was when he signed a four-year, $75 million contract with these Padres and a year older than Jon Lester was when he got a six-year, $155 million deal from the Chicago Cubs.
Greinke will have three years and $78 million left with the Dodgers if he chooses not to walk away this November.
Asked how he was holding up while seeing all this effort and good pitching go for naught, Greinke looked up and said in a barely audible voice, “The first six years of my career, it was worse than that. You just do what you do.”
Greinke is frustrated enough that he is reduced to analyzing his own at-bats and lamenting one fielding mistake. One of the game’s best hitting pitchers and a Gold Glover, he went 0-for-3 Saturday night and couldn’t make a difficult play on Matt Kemp’s first-inning swinging bunt up the third-base line, a play that resulted in a throwing error and cost Greinke the only run aside from Justin Upton’s eighth-inning home run. In his previous start, Greinke held the St. Louis Cardinals down into the seventh inning but left with the Dodgers trailing 2-1.
“Last game, I got some hits myself. In the NL, you can do something to help yourself out,” Greinke said. “I got one pitch to hit today and missed it, so … but I mean, I had a chance.”
The other eight guys in the Dodgers’ lineup didn’t do much better with their chances against Ian Kennedy, a pitcher who came into the game with a 6.48 ERA and whom they have seen nine times over the past two seasons, not including spring training. Kennedy held the Dodgers to just four hits over seven innings, though he struck out just four batters. Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez and Jimmy Rollins are cold right now, and the Dodgers’ offense has been only sporadically effective. The Dodgers have scored two runs or fewer in five of their past nine games.
It only seems like Greinke has pitched all of them.