The above statement is a common refrain around baseball in the month of April. It’s uttered by those cautioning against the continuation of hot statistical starts and by those defending the slow beginnings by established stars.
When is it not early anymore?
Zack Greinke made his fifth start of 2016 Monday night. He earned a win, but his line didn’t exactly inspire confidence. The D-backs’ ace lasted 6.2 innings, allowing 11 hits — including two home runs — and seven earned runs in a 12-7 Arizona win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Greinke lost his first two decisions of the season, both at Chase Field. He rebounded nicely in his next two starts on the road, going 7.1 innings in a 3-2 victory over the Padres on Apr. 15 and earned his first win of the year five days later in a 2-1 win in San Francisco.
Most people thought Greinke was rounding into the form that made him one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball during his three-year stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Monday’s performance raised a very valid question: Can Greinke thrive at hitter-friendly Chase Field?
ESPN’s Jayson Stark explored that very subject on social media Tuesday.
Zack Greinke allowed 19 runs all last season at Dodger Stadium (17 starts). He has given up 18 already in Arizona (three starts). Uh-oh
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) April 26, 2016
It goes further than runs allowed. Greinke’s home-road splits through five starts are alarming.
“I thought I did alright,” Greinke said following Monday’s game. “Which is kind of embarrassing — giving up seven runs and thinking you did alright.”
D-backs manager Chip Hale doesn’t seem all that concerned from what he’s seen so far.
“The two places he’s pitched on the road were San Diego and San Francisco, which are two of the better, if not the best ballparks to pitch in, so that’s always going to be a wide split,” Hale told Burns and Gambo Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “He’s just left some balls up here. (Monday) night, by design, he wanted to pitch some of their guys up — they’re more low-ball hitters, but he left too many balls up where they could get to them.”
Greinke singled out two pitches that hurt him: a 1-2 fastball to Yadier Molina that was hit into center field for a single in the sixth and a 1-0 changeup that Jeremy Hazelbaker laced to center for an RBI triple in the seventh.
“Besides that, it was pretty decent, which, like I said, is pretty sad that’s the case,” he said.
The Chase Field struggles this year are a bit head-scratching. In his three years with the Dodgers, Greinke dominated the D-backs in downtown Phoenix, going 6-0 in six starts with a 0.65 ERA, 41 strikeouts and seven walks.
Zack Greinke’s Recent History at Chase Field
It is interesting to note that Greinke’s 2016 Chase Field ERA is his second-highest in any stadium since joining the Dodgers in 2013. In his first year in Los Angeles, the right-hander had an ERA of 11.25 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, but that was in one start which saw him get touched up for five earned runs in four innings in a 5-2 loss to the Brewers on May 21.
“I think he’s frustrated that he’s not pitching better here — which is a good thing,” Hale said. “He wants to be better than he is. He knows he will be, and we know he will be.
“We’re not going to evaluate him on five starts. He’s going to have six years of starts here for this team, so let’s just let him get settled down and get used to pitching here.”
Greinke’s next opportunity to right the ship at home will come Saturday night against the Colorado Rockies — the team that roughed him up on Opening Day Apr. 4.