Did Zack Greinke's surgeon rescue this Dodger season?

LOS ANGELES -- On April 13, Dr. Neal ElAttrache spent about 90 minutes with Zack Greinke at White Memorial Hospital, about five miles east of Dodger Stadium. The pitcher was out cold, anesthetized while the surgeon repaired his broken left collarbone by inserting a metal plate to stabilize it.

That may have been the best mechanical adjustment Greinke will make all season.

It's amazing what modern medicine, combined with modern training techniques and old-fashioned determination, can do these days. Greinke on Wednesday night looked almost as if he were pitching five days after that fateful collision with Carlos Quentin, not 34 days later. He held the Washington Nationals to one run over 5 1/3 innings in a 3-1 win.

"I'm sure Doc ElAttrache was sitting at home patting himself on the back," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Greinke didn't consider it anything out of the ordinary. In fact, he said he felt he could have pitched two weeks ago, or barely over two weeks after the doctor cut him open, fixed his bone and sewed him back together. It's not as if Greinke doesn't deserve some credit for getting back so quickly, three weeks ahead of schedule. He went about his business in a quiet, grimly determined manner while he was out.

Now, this could be just the jumping-off point.

"I think he'll get stronger and stronger as he goes," Mattingly said. "It's pretty amazing what this guy was able to do tonight."

The Dodgers didn't go 10-19 in Greinke's absence because he wasn't pitching every fifth day. At most, his outings would have gotten them another couple of wins. They'd still be under .500, still be digging to get back to contention.

But Wednesday felt like a mile marker for this Dodgers season. Greinke's return means the Dodgers have, essentially, their Opening Day roster once again. If they continue to flounder, they won't be able to say it's because they're hurt. So, let the evaluation period begin.

Greinke said he started feeling a bit of soreness in the area of his collarbone after an awkward swing in the second inning, but he recovered well enough to stroke an RBI single to right. He said he was nearing exhaustion as his pitch count got into the 70s in the fifth inning, but he got a second wind in the sixth.

In other words, this could just be the trailer for what he can do for the Dodgers' rotation. The movie is still in pre-production, but if Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu get on a collective roll, it could -- despite early appearances -- have a happy ending.

"We start to see the vision," Mattingly said.

Greinke didn't rush back, but he didn't exactly take his time. The doctors had to sign off on his return after looking at the latest X-rays. The Dodgers had to decide he was ready to pitch at a high enough level to help them pull themselves out of this rut they're in.

And nothing we saw Wednesday indicated anybody made the wrong call. At times, Greinke looked uncomfortable out there, tugging at his jersey and rolling his shoulders back as if he were feeling some pain.

"It's not 100 percent, but it doesn't restrict me at all on my pitching," he said.

In every other way, he was himself. His fastball may have been a tick or two slow, but he touched 92 mph a couple of times and what can you expect from a guy who essentially is coming out of spring training all over again?

He gave up a long home run to Adam LaRoche, but the Nationals didn't seem particularly comfortable otherwise. Greinke had the usual spread of speeds, from a 73 mph curveball on up. He's a lot to handle, even when he's not 100 percent.

Now, he finds out how many pitches Mattingly lets him throw in his next start, probably Tuesday in Milwaukee.

"I'm assuming normal, until I start to look bad," Greinke said.

That could take a while.