HOUSTON -- Zack Greinke’s love-hate relationship with his slider reached a breaking point Monday night. Greinke threw only nine sliders from among the 90 pitches he tossed in the Astros’ 6-2 loss to the Tigers at Minute Maid Park, but he was ready to ditch it for good.
“I don’t ever want to throw it again after today,” he said. “It was bad.”
Greinke, coming off a pair of sterling starts to begin the season, struggled Monday and gave up 10 hits and six runs in 4 2/3 innings. The six runs allowed tied for the most Greinke has allowed in a game since coming to Houston in a July 2019 trade. Luis Garcia followed Greinke and allowed two hits and struck out seven in 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
Three of the hits Greinke allowed came on the slider, including a Renato Núñez double in the second inning and a Núñez homer in the third. Greinke also gave up homers to Grayson Greiner in the second inning and Akil Baddoo in the third (back to back with Núñez).
Greinke has tabled his slider at different stretches before during his career but continues to try to make it an effective pitch to go with his four-seam fastball and his curveball. The slider was his second-most used pitch in 2017, when he threw it 22.5% of the time, according to Statcast, but he used it less in ’18 (17.3%), ’19 (16.1%) and last year (16.1%). Opponents hit .308 against the slider in’ 19 and .298 last year. They are 5-for-13 (.385) against the pitch this year.
“Their team is not a good slider-hitting team,” Greinke said. “Garcia did a really good job with the slider. I threw it where I wanted sometimes, and they hit it good. It’s been a big negative this season -- Spring Training and [regular] season. I had one good game with it against Oakland. It’s just been bad. I’m going to focus on the other pitches, the pitches that I throw good, from here on out.”
Greinke had issued only one walk in 13 innings in his first two starts -- both outings were against Oakland -- but walked two batters in the first inning Monday and another in the second. None of them scored, but that was a clear indication his control was an issue.
“He kept bouncing the slider, and we were hoping he would get it together without us having to go to our bullpen in the third inning,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I thought about it at the time. He wasn’t sharp, but he can get sharp. Then they deposited another homer, and it’s like, ‘Oh boy, we’re in trouble here now.’ Especially the fact we weren’t getting hits or scoring any runs.”
As difficult as the night was to digest for Greinke, he still made a strong impression on Tigers rookie Casey Mize, who threw seven scoreless innings to stuff Houston’s offense. Mize earned his first career win, putting him 208 behind Greinke.
"I admire him a lot,” Mize said. “He's a guy that's really something else. I mean, just really talented. He's transformed the way he pitches. Obviously, used to be a power guy, and now he's just masterful in what he does. He threw a pitch at 51 [mph] in there for a strike [to Núñez in the fifth inning]. I thought, 'There's no chance I could do that.'"
Throwing the eephus for a strike is no trouble for Greinke, but it was the slider that will keep him up at night.