Legacy at stake? Greinke feels good heading into NL Wild Card start
PHOENIX — Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke has been here before.
His nine postseason starts in six playoffs series say as much. So did his answers to the media on Tuesday, a day before he leads Arizona onto Chase Field for a National League Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies.
It was typical Greinke, verbally shrugging off questions about a season that comes down to this game, one that represents the perfect explanation for why the D-backs signed him to a then-record six-year, $206.5 million deal two summers ago.
“I mean, it’s nice being in the playoffs and being a big game. I guess I don’t really think about the situation too much,” Greinke said when asked about his decision to join the Diamondbacks. “It’d be nice to have a big game and win. It’d be bad if it didn’t go that way.
“Just got to prepare, do as you can, make as good of pitches as you can. I feel good going into it. Feel pretty prepared. All my pitches feel good.”
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On the other side, it was 25-year-old Rockies pitcher Jon Gray, who has never been to the postseason but came out expressing all the calm of a seasoned veteran treating this one very important game like a regular season one.
Just like any other start — until he admitted this.
“It’s very cool, ” Gray said of facing Greinke. “The guy obviously has a great track record. It’s a guy I used to watch on TV. It’s very, very surreal.”
Lest we forget, this is a big moment for Greinke, too.
His contract signed before the 2016 season soured on fans as last year went on. Despite rebounding this season, Wednesday’s Wild Card moment could mark a fork in the road to Greinke’s legacy with the D-backs.
Win, and Greinke continues a season of redemption after sputtering in his Arizona debut against this same Rockies team in 2016 before finishing the year with a 4.37 ERA, the second-worst in his 13-year MLB career.
Lose, and the discussion could circle back to his age and his salary weighing down a team that would like to keep a core led by Paul Goldschmidt and retain J.D. Martinez, whose scintillating half-season has won over fans.
Ask D-backs general manager Mike Hazen about Greinke, and this season was enough to justify the risky move by Hazen’s front office predecessors, no matter Wednesday’s result.
“His intelligence, ability to game plan, his command, his stuff — there is a reason why he was signed here and he’s definitely fulfilled that,” Hazen said.
If you believe his final two starts of the regular season might say anything about how Greinke performs Wednesday, then there is reason for concern.
Greinke allowed eight earned runs, three home runs and two walks in 4.0 frames against the Marlins on Sept. 22. Seven days later, he again went 4.0 innings, allowing a home run and two earned runs at Kansas City to wrap the year.
“Did alright, just fine-tuning some pitches and the home run was just like a decent pitch, the guy hit it good. The rest of the (Kansas City) game, I wasn’t really that upset with it so I feel good coming into this game coming up,” Greinke said Tuesday. “The Miami game was bad. Didn’t make adjustments, their offense is really good — just a bad combination.”
The numbers between Wild Card starting pitchers Greinke and Gray made them easy picks to start for their respective teams. Each had success over the course of 2017 facing their Wild Card opponent, and each began and ended the year as the ace of their staff.
Through three starts against Arizona, Gray won twice, never going fewer than 5.0 innings or giving up more than three runs.
Greinke went 2-1 with a 3.47 ERA in five starts facing the Rockies.
“This year, I mean, every game I’ve pitched against them, I’ve felt really, really good this year to where after the game, they got three runs or something,” Greinke said, “and my mind was like, ‘Man, I should have done even better with how good I felt.’ So I’ve felt really good in the games I’ve pitched against them this year.”
“One thing I remember about him is he made everything look like a strike out of the hand, even the off-speed. Even when things weren’t going right for him, you would never see his emotions on the mound. He would get back up there, you couldn’t tell if it was an on- or off-night for him.” — Jon Gray on watching Zack Greinke growing up
One lingering question went unanswered during media availability Tuesday as the two teams held their finalized Wild Card rosters close to the vests.
Who is catching Greinke on Wednesday?
Veteran Jeff Mathis, who caught most of the ace over the season, is coming off a hand injury. If he isn’t in, it’ll be Chris Iannetta behind the plate.
“I mean, that’s not my job to tell you who’s catching tomorrow,” Greinke said when asked how each catcher has caught him. “They’ve both done good. Thrown to Chris to a while now and we’re working good. They’re both good.”
Tune in to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday as our shows come to you live from Chase Field.
The 2017 National League Wild Card Game gets underway just after 5 p.m., and you can hear the action on 98.7 FM.