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Concern for D-backs ace grows after Greinke’s brief Wild Card start

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke throws to the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of the National League wild-card playoff baseball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — When manager Torey Lovullo made the decision to start the Arizona Diamondbacks’ $206.5 million ace Zack Greinke in the one-game NL Wild Card playoff, it made sense despite the right-hander’s lackluster performances in his final two starts of the regular season.

Some of his issues were attributed to the temporary loss of catcher Jeff Mathis, who to that point had worked with Greinke all year long, due to Mathis’ fractured right hand on Aug. 22.

But in Greinke’s seven starts following Mathis’ departure due to injury, the ace was still able to last six innings or more in five of seven starts while allowing more than two earned runs in only one of those appearances.

His two shortest outings occurred in his final starts of the season against the Marlins and the Royals.

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In an ugly loss to the Marlins, Greinke gave up eight earned runs on nine hits in four innings of work with only three strikeouts.

In his final start against the Royals, Greinke was obviously on a shorter leash due to the upcoming playoff game and the fact the D-backs had already clinched a spot, but it was another outing where he was only able to last four innings. He did only allow two earned runs with four strikeouts, but it wasn’t a reassuring tune-up performance heading into the postseason.

The return of Mathis to the lineup Wednesday provided some comfort with Greinke on the mound, and Greinke’s first two innings pitched backed up Lovullo’s decision to start him in this critical game.

But with Arizona leading 6-0, the wheels quickly fell off in the fourth inning as the Rockies were able to chip away at Greinke with three singles from Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Gerardo Parra. Then, a Jonathan Lucroy double completely brought Colorado back into a game that was seemingly put out of reach early.

One more RBI single from Alexi Amarista ended Greinke’s night and caused further concern for the ace’s ability to be dominant during this postseason run by the D-backs.

As a whole, Greinke’s night wasn’t outrageously bad. He gave up six hits and four earned runs in 3.2 innings. He walked one and struck out one. He didn’t give up any big hits outside of the Lucroy double. It was just a succession of singles that sunk him.

In a regular season game, Greinke would have been given an opportunity to stay out there and turn things around for a win. Obviously, the Wild Card is a completely different scenario. But the concern going forward for Lovullo will be about Greinke’s ability to be the top of this rotation.

Does he continue to consider him the No. 1 starter going forward, especially in critical games such as an elimination playoff game?

Analyzing a three-game set isn’t the best way to judge a pitcher, but Greinke’s struggles come at a crucial time in this season and in his career with the D-backs. His ERA over the last three games, including the Wild Card game start, is 11.25 in just 11.2 innings pitched with only eight strikeouts. Greinke has 13 starts this season where he struck out eight or more in a single game.

However, there are intangibles that justify having confidence in him going forward. With eight seasons on Patrick Corbin, he is obviously the veteran of this pitching staff, so his experience in the postseason is invaluable regardless of what the numbers say. None of the other starters have ever been to the postseason.

Also, his career playoff numbers reflect what he is truly capable of. Even with his performance on Wednesday, Greinke has a career 3.92 ERA in 62.0 innings pitched in the postseason with 55 strikeouts and 10 walks. Those numbers make it hard to go with a less experienced pitcher in a big game situation.

Overall, Greinke is an experienced and reliable starter that Lovullo and the D-backs will need to count on if they plan on making this playoff run something truly remarkable.

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