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Concerned about Zack Greinke? Yes, I am

Arizona Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke adjusts his cap between pitches against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

On December 4, 2015, the Arizona Diamondbacks set the baseball world ablaze when word came out they had agreed to a massive six-year, $206.5 million contract with pitcher Zack Greinke.

One of the best pitchers in all of baseball who last season won 19 games and posted a 1.66 ERA with a 0.84 WHIP for the Dodgers, it was the type of move no one expected the D-backs to make.

Not only did Arizona pry him away from the rival Dodgers, but they outbid one of the wealthiest teams in all of baseball to do it. It was impressive. It was exciting.

Needless to say, people in Arizona were pumped. The D-backs found the ace they had been missing, and with Greinke on board could reasonably make a run to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

Sure, there was some uneasiness about how effective Greinke, 32 when the contract was signed, would be in the latter years of the deal. But that was for the future, and the focus was on a present that appeared much, much brighter with the right-hander on board.

Yeah, about that.

In eight games for Arizona, Greinke has posted a 5.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. He has allowed 62 hits and walked 12 in 49.2 innings, with batters hitting .307 against him. The D-backs are 4-4 in his starts.

Worse, the three-time All-Star and 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner is 1-3 with a 7.28 ERA at Chase Field, where opponents are batting .344 against him.

“He gave us six innings, four runs, a chance to win the game,” D-backs manager Chip Hale said after Greinke allowed four runs on eight hits with three walks in six innings of a 4-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants Thursday. “They did have some good swings against him; I thought they put together some good at-bats, pushed his pitch count pretty high.

“But the six innings was important that he gave us after the two tough ones, giving up a couple runs there and a couple runs, so for him to give us that six was big. It will help our bullpen in the next three games here in the series.”

Hale went on to note how he’s sure Greinke never wants to give up a single run, but that you have to give the Giants credit for putting the bat on the ball the way they did.

“It’s baseball,” he said. “Four runs in our ballpark, we should be able to counter that.”

In theory, yes. But with Greinke on the mound, you shouldn’t have to. The Diamondbacks are not paying him an average of $34.42 million per season to give the team “a chance to win the game.” They are paying him to win the game.

They need him to win the game.

In a lot of ways, Thursday’s effort provided a perfect backdrop for the early-season Greinke saga. Opposing the hurler on the mound was Johnny Cueto, another D-backs offseason target who they ultimately decided not to pursue. Just more than a week after inking Greinke, the Giants reeled in Cueto for $130 million over six years.

The 30-year-old allowed two runs on eight hits with two walks while striking out nine in seven innings Thursday, and on the season he is 5-1 with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 57.2 innings of work.

It was not exactly an either/or proposition, but in the early going, it appears the Giants got a much better deal with their pitcher.

Of course, that right there is the caveat: it’s early.

Greinke made 32 starts in each of his last two seasons with the Dodgers, and if he reaches that total this year with the D-backs, that means he has another 24 left in him. Every one of those outings offers an opportunity to pitch well and right the ship, and his track record suggests that’s what will happen.

After all, Greinke has been one of baseball’s best pitchers for a number of years now, and it seems unlikely he just fell off a cliff when he made the move to Arizona. By all accounts he is an exceptionally hard worker who will put in the effort to turn things around, and at the same time he is a positive influence on the team’s other pitchers.

But the D-backs need more than that out of him, and he is a quarter of the way through his season.

Arizona has been home to some of the game’s best pitchers, from Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Ian Kennedy was not great, but even he won 21 games for the D-backs in 2011.

Greinke was supposed to join that list this season but so far he’s more like Russ Ortiz who, incidentally, had better numbers through his first eight games as a D-back in 2005 than Greinke.

The hope is Greinke will turn things around and, while maybe not be the guy he was in Los Angeles, be a pitcher who the team can count on to be a real ace, a stopper who prevents prolonged losing streaks. There should be a confidence every time he takes the mound that the D-backs are going to win because, quite frankly, the other team ain’t gonna do squat.

Thus far that has not been the case; in fact, it has been the opposite.

And if things do not change, the Greinke signing — once viewed as the bold and impressive move a team like the D-backs does not make but that can change the franchise’s fortunes– will be viewed in a light no one expected it to be.

While not a small-market team, the Diamondbacks don’t generally have the resources to spend like some of their more financially-endowed opponents. When they do step up to the plate with that kind of contract, they cannot afford to swing and miss.

Six months ago the D-backs’ move to add Greinke set the baseball world ablaze. If he does not live up to the contract — not even a little bit — the only thing that will burn down is the franchise’s future.

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