Zack Greinke has been a great free agent acquisition for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though he received a no-decision Saturday afternoon against a great Cincinnati Reds team, he has been brilliant since coming off the disabled list in late May.
The national media has made a big deal out of the Dodgers' large payroll and surplus of starting pitchers. During Spring Training, the Dodgers had nine starting pitchers. No team can use that many. Right?
Following the Dodgers for 35 years, I have learned nothing is impossible. To a casual observer, it appeared the Dodgers had too many starters, but they have used more starters than that (11), and the season isn't over yet.
The Dodgers started the season with two starters with questionable health. Ted Lilly was recovering from shoulder surgery hasn't been healthy enough to make three consecutive starts, and the Dodgers had to release him after the All-Star break. Chad Billingsley tried to avoid elbow surgery by having a platelet-rich injection, but after making two starts in the regular season, Billingsley underwent Tommy John surgery. Since he is a free agent after this season, he probably won't return to the Dodgers.
Aaron Harang refused to accept a temporary bullpen assignment, so Ned Colletti traded him to the Colorado Rockies for veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, whom the Dodgers later released when Tim Federowicz proved that he belonged in the Major Leagues.
Chris Capuano has had two Tommy John surgeries during his career. Hence, the health of his arm can be a concern. This season he has been plagued with various leg injuries. On Friday, Capuano lasted for five outs before leaving the game with a mild groin injury. The Dodgers listed him as day-to-day, but they won't know more until he throws a bullpen session.
Hyun-Jin Ryu originally was scheduled to pitch Friday, but a stiff back prevented him from doing so. The Dodgers might have been overly cautious with him, but they couldn't risk losing him for a significant amount of time heading into the playoffs. Ryu is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Stephen Fife, who has spent a large portion of the season either in the Minor Leagues or on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis, has made a few important starts for the Dodgers. Now after September callups, he is the only reliever in the Dodger bullpen who can pitch multiple innings in case a starter injures himself.
Despite missing about a month with a broken clavicle from a brawl involving Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres, Greinke has complemented Clayton Kershaw, vying for another Cy Young Award. When the Dodgers signed Greinke last December for six years, many members of the national media accused the Dodgers of buying a championship. So what? The New York Yankees do it every year, and no member of the media criticizes the winningest sports franchise in history for doing that.
It has been 25 years since the Dodgers have appeared in the World Series, and most Dodgers fans don't care how much money the Dodgers spend as long as they bring another world championship to Los Angeles. By far, Greinke was the best free-agent starter available, and the Dodgers didn't have to settle for mediocrity anymore. The previous ownership didn't want to make a financial commitment to winning, and this angered Dodger fans everywhere. Signing Greinke sent a message to fans that the new ownership is serious about bringing a perennial contender to Los Angeles.
Greinke, 30, is a right-handed natural athlete who is a serious student of the game. He knows more about high school and college prospects than many people who work for a Major League organization and likes to attend the amateur Draft room of his current team. He prepares for every game better than many starters, so he develops a plan to get each hitter out before taking the mound.
Greinke has four pitches, and when all of them are working, he is almost unhittable. His control usually is pinpoint perfect, especially in August when he earned the National League Pitcher of the Month honors.
Greinke is the complete player. He leads pitchers in the National League in batting average. Several times this year he has driven in many important runs, enabling him to earn victories even though his team's offense struggled. Whenever Don Mattingly asked him to sacrifice, he usually lays down an almost perfect bunt. He fields his position well, and he should earn many Gold Gloves over his career unless his teammates Kershaw or Ryu impress more with their fielding prowess.
Going into the playoffs, the Dodgers' starting rotation should be a strength for them. Greinke should play a crucial role in the Dodgers' playoff success.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com.