Three years ago, Zack Greinke left the game to deal with his issues with anxiety. Today, Greinke came to rescue us from our own.(/rickreilly)
If yesterday revealed in bold detail the pitfalls that await the Royals on their way to being contenders, today was a reminder as to why so many of us believe that contention isn’t such a pipe dream this year.
I couldn’t wait to wash the bad taste from Opening Day out of my mouth, but I couldn’t help but worry that I was about to replace the salty tang of anger with the bitter taste of despair. Sparky
Instead, we got Greinke’s first salvo in the Cy Young race. Six brilliant innings. Strikeouts of seven different hitters. Three harmless singles. A key double play to put the brakes on the White Sox’ one solid rally. A Carlos Quentin HBP that may or may not have been intentional, but either way reminded the Sox that they can’t hit two of our batters (as they did on Tuesday) and not expect retaliation.
You all know how I feel about Greinke – I’m certainly not impartial, and I’m barely rational. But I could not have asked for a better start from him than the one he gave tonight. If he can put aside five years of futility in this ballpark and deliver six shutout innings on a night with no margin for error and the Royals needing a big win…well, let’s just say I can’t wait to see what he does with his 33 remaining starts.
Trey Hillman, coming off one of his worst performances as a handler of the pitching staff, was as flawless as Greinke in that regard. Zack finished the sixth having thrown 93 pitches, and in my own mind I was conflicted as to whether he should be left out there for another inning. On the one hand, it was his first start of the year, a cool night in Chicago, and as effective as he had been, he had allowed at least one baserunner in every inning but the first – I didn’t think this was a good night to let him approach 110 pitches. On the other, the Royals had a two-run lead with nine outs to go, and as long as Greinke wasn’t tired, he was better than anyone else that the Royals might bring into the game. My feeling was, let him start the inning, but pull him at the first sign of any trouble.
His first pitch to Jermaine Dye was up in the zone. His second was drilled to center for a single, and as fast as Rob Neyer could IM me “uh-oh”, Hillman was on the mound taking the ball away. Juan Cruz came in, and watching him pitch only made Hillman’s decision to go with Farnsworth yesterday even more mystifying. I mean, Cruz doesn’t just throw hard, his pitches move. Nothing is straight, and coming from that low three-quarters motion, he ought to be just death on right-handed hitters.
Cruz breezed through the next three batters to strand Dye, and Hillman made another shrewd move in the eighth, leaving Cruz in for a second inning. This is another one of those areas where the trend towards more conservative usage of pitchers has gone too far: you rarely see relievers throw multiple innings anymore. Well, you do, but it’s almost always the mop-up relievers and swingmen trying to save the rest of the bullpen – in other words, the worst relievers are the ones throwing the most innings. Cruz appeared in 57 games last season, but just six times was he used to get more than three outs – and he pitched two full innings in a game just once. That’s how one of the Diamondbacks’ best relievers threw just 52 innings all season.
Thanks to Hillman, Cruz matched that total of two-inning appearances tonight, and was as awesome – six up, six down – as Farnsworth was awful. Cruz actually threw fewer pitches (21) in his two innings than Farnsworth did (24) in his one. I’d like to think that means he’s available if the Royals have a lead to preserve in the eighth inning tomorrow; realistically, it looks like it will be Ron Mahay’s turn on Hillman’s merry-go-round.
Joakim Soria finished things off in the ninth, ending the game on an absolutely ridiculous curveball to Dye. Quentin and Thome had both made outs on 2-1 pitches, so when Soria worked the count to 2-2 on Dye, it was clear that the Mexicutioner was about to unleash the Guillotine, as I call his vicious (and delicious) slow curveball that he dispatches his victims with. I knew it was coming, you knew it, I imagine Dye knew it, and we all knew that there was nothing Dye could do about it anyway.
Except late last year hitters started to expect that pitch with two strikes, and they learned to spit on it as Soria bounced it in the dirt, forcing him to adjust. The Sox have seen him as much as anyone, so I figured that Soria would be better off not trying to bury the pitch, but instead starting it high and keeping it in the strike zone.
He did me one better – he started it up in Dye’s eyes, but as it dropped it also made a left turn, and by the time it hit Olivo’s glove it was down and away. Dye could have stood up there with a cricket bat, a tennis racket, or a cello and there was no way he was hitting that pitch. It was beautiful.
Hillman did spotless work with his pitchers, but he still needs to be dinged for his, ahem, strange approach to late-inning defense. I was so upset about the usage of Farnsworth yesterday that I didn’t even bother to mention the fact that in the eighth inning, with a one-run lead, Mark Teahen was still playing second base in his first game ever at the position, while Willie Bloomquist sat on the bench.
Well tonight, in the eighth inning, Bloomquist finally came in for defense…in right field. Somehow, with Bloomquist and Teahen both on the field, Hillman decided that the best defensive arrangement was to have Teahen at second base and Bloomquist in right field, not the other way around. (Remember, this is the same guy who last year, in the game where the Royals blew a five-run lead in the ninth, had Teahen at first and Ross Gload in right field. And one of the key hits in the inning fell just in front of Gload.)
I can’t argue with the results. With one out in the eighth, the speedy DeWayne Wise hit a grounder just to the right of the second base bag. I would have bet anything that Teahen, ranging far to his right, would have mishandled the ball – and when he came up with it and fired to first base, I would have bet anything that his throw was way offline. Instead, it was a picture-perfect play that got Wise out by about three steps. I can’t argue with the results, but I can still argue with the execution. I’m as hopeful as anyone that Teahen can turn into a quality defensive player at second base, but let’s see him prove it first before leaving him there with a small lead to protect in the late innings.
The brilliance of the pitching allows us to overlook, for now, another meager output from the offense. The Royals are 1-1 despite scoring just two runs in each game…and could easily be 2-0. Much like last April, the Royals have done a good job of winning when they get even a little offense – but getting even a little offense is turning into a chore.
For now, momentum is Kyle Davies. If Davies laissez les bon temps roulez and the Royals win tomorrow, Hillman’s shenanigans on Opening Day will be overshadowed by the team’s winning record. If Cruz quickly replaces Farnsworth in the pecking order of Royals’ relievers, those shenanigans may even be forgotten some day.
Don’t look for me to post anything tomorrow, so consider this your open thread to discuss my first radio show tomorrow night. Feel free to critique, criticize, or just plain make fun of me here.