SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Let’s get this out of the way first: Arizona Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke is healthy.
“Yeah, 100-percent now,” he said.
Of course, that wasn’t the case last season when a strained left oblique and stiff right shoulder limited him in 2016 to 26 starts, his fewest in four years.
Again, those health issues are in the past, and Greinke took to the mound on Wednesday and threw “a nice, easy, rhythm bullpen,” according to manager Tory Lovullo.
“We’re very encouraged by what we saw and we know Zack is very much in control of where he’s at,” the D-backs’ first-year manager said.
That Greinke threw to catcher Jeff Mathis on the second day of spring training at Salt River Fields came as a bit of a surprise considering Lovullo had announced earlier his No.1 starter wouldn’t throw his first bullpen session until later in the week.
Greinke said he focused on fastball command.
Like many of his teammates, Greinke is anxious to put the disappointment of last season behind him.
Though his numbers were decent in 2016, they paled in comparison to the year prior when Greinke recorded the lowest ERA (1.66) in 20 years while going 19-3 in 32 starts, finishing second and seventh in National League Cy Young and MVP voting, respectively.
“I thought I could pitch the same,” he said. “But a lot of good things happened in 2015. If you’re just talking about ERA-wise, probably not. But I could pitch just as good. Anytime you pitch, you have some fluctuations just by breaks and the team behind you and all sorts of different things where your ERA and other things could change slightly. You’re not going to go from something in the 1.00s to something in the 4.00s just by luck or something. It could be luck. But you also have to pitch worse, also.”
In his first season with the D-backs, after signing a six-year, $206 million contract, Greinke won 13 games with 134 strikeouts in 158.2 innings, numbers that ranked as his lowest since 2012. On top of that, Greinke posted his highest ERA (4.37) since 2005, his second year in the Majors.
So, what happened?
“In the second half, I don’t think I threw as good as I should have,” he said. “I also think if I was able to throw 200-plus innings like normal, if I would have added another 50-plus innings, those would have been good innings and the numbers would have came a little closer to what was expected. But I just missed 50-60 innings somewhere in there and so it didn’t get to tell the whole story on the season.”
Greinke did have his moments in 2016: winning seven consecutive starts from May 17-June 18, winning eight straight decisions from May 17-Aug. 9, the eighth-longest streak in team history, and recording a team-best 16.0-inning scoreless streak from June 2-7.
Even better, perhaps, was that Greinke posted a 2.75 ERA over his final six starts at Chase Field, thus ending any discussion of his difficulty pitching in the ballpark.
“It definitely wasn’t a problem or anything. I felt comfortable there,” he said.
Also during his nine-minute Q&A with reporters on Wednesday, Greinke, 33, praised the D-backs’ young pitching arms and expressed optimism for the season ahead.
“They’re really good. I’m shocked we didn’t do better last year. We have a very talented staff. Really good. I think we’re a good team. I still have high hopes for our team,” he said. “I thought we were really good going into last year. We pretty much have the same team or a very similar team. I think we should be good.”
This will be Greinke’s 14th season.
“I’m not used to it,” he said, referring to his injuries last season, “but I still feel really healthy and strong. I’m not feeling real old. I feel pretty good. I feel like they were semi-fluky injuries, not anything long-term, issue-wise.
— It’s Greinke’s preference to throw to one catcher, as he did last season when he was paired up with Welington Castillo. It helps with the communication, Greinke said. In the offseason, however, the D-backs non-tendered Castillo, who eventually signed with the Baltimore Orioles, leaving Greinke without a familiar face behind the plate.
“I’ll be fine with whoever. I like Welly, though. He’s not here anymore,” he said, adding when asked if the D-backs made a mistake in letting Castillo go, “I wouldn’t say that. There’s money involved in this game. You can’t keep everyone. But I liked him. I like a lot of guys, but I liked him.”
— Aside from Greinke, a handful of other pitchers threw their first bullpens of spring training.
“A couple of guys jumped out at me. I thought (Randall) Delgado threw the ball really well. I thought Patrick Corbin threw the ball really well,” Lovullo said. “It’s kind of unfair of me to say just those two. I think that everybody threw the ball really well. It speaks volumes about their offseason preparation. It speaks volumes about them being prepared mentally to go up there and execute pitches. I liked a lot of what I saw today and yesterday.”
— Two days into camp and there remains no sign of closer Fernando Rodney. That could be changing soon, however.
“He is having his citizenship hearing,” said Lovullo, who mistakenly told reporters earlier in the week that Rodney was having visa issues. “He has been in constant communication with us about where he’s at with that process. It’s winding down, and he’ll be here as soon as he possibly can. We’re very well aware of the situation.”
— Among those watching the pitcher-catcher workouts early this spring is former D-backs pitcher Dan Haren. After a year removed from the game, Haren rejoined the D-backs as a pitching strategist in the team’s analytics department.
“He’s able to share some really, really useful information with these guys. Now what that is at this point in time, it hasn’t been delivered to the pitchers,” Lovullo said. “Dan is doing some behind-the-scenes work that’s going to allow him to have certain types of conversations once these pitchers get educated about his language.
“He’s putting some thoughts together as he’s watching these bullpens, and it’s going to be a pretty powerful message that these guys will hear when Dan is able to sit down with them and relate to them on a different level.”