SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- You know young pitchers watch Zack Greinke. They'd be crazy not to pay attention when he's around them.But can signing one of the game's best pitchers make your hitters better, too?That seems like a big ask, but Chip Hale suggests it's possible.• Spring Training informationThe second-year manager
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- You know young pitchers watch Zack Greinke. They'd be crazy not to pay attention when he's around them.
But can signing one of the game's best pitchers make your hitters better, too?
That seems like a big ask, but Chip Hale suggests it's possible.
• Spring Training information
The second-year manager says his D-backs have had a terrific approach toward everything they've done this spring, including implementing defenses and bearing down on situational hitting under the watch of new hitting coach Dave Magadan. What does that have to do with Greinke?
Hale calls it "the Zack Greinke effect,'' declaring that it's been a more focused camp across the board.
It's hard to get Greinke to take credit for his own success. He would be the last one to tie himself to others, but he has noticed that good things are happening for Arizona.
"There are always hot streaks and cold streaks, but there have been a lot of guys playing really well,'' Greinke said. "It shows that there's more depth here than was originally thought by me. There are a lot of guys playing good, which is good to know in case there are some injuries along the way.''
Greinke signed a $206.5 million contract with the D-backs after exercising an opt-out clause in his deal with the Dodgers. He took his turn on the mound Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, and it was clear why executives and scouts around the Cactus League have been talking about the D-backs the last couple of weeks.
They regained their pulse under Hale and general manager Dave Stewart in 2015, winning 15 more games than they had the season before, and pose a serious threat to the Dodgers and Giants in the National League West after adding Greinke and fellow starter Shelby Miller.
Greinke's 5 2/3 scoreless innings Saturday were the backbone of an 11-1 victory over the Rangers. The signature moments came when he picked off Texas top prospect Joey Gallo at second base and when he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam, but there was a lot more to like than just Greinke.
David Peralta hit through a shift to drive in a run. Paul Goldschmidt and Peralta executed a double steal, with the D-backs' MVP candidate stealing third. Welington Castillo and Brandon Drury homered back to back off Chi Chi Gonzalez. These are the kinds of things that have Arizona averaging 7.4 runs per game, tops in the Major Leagues.
Hale says he takes the D-backs' 14-4-1 record "with a grain of salt'' but loves the way his team is playing. The tone was set, he believes, in workouts that pitching coach Mike Butcher ran in January at the Salt River Fields complex. Things got really interesting once Greinke arrived.
"The one difference I noted from January, when we started to throw bullpens, is a different focus,'' Hale said. "Once Zack threw his first bullpen, and the way guys were milling around watching him, the way guys went about their bullpen sessions was completely different. Instead of just throwing, throwing, throwing, there was a purpose to every pitch. If you watch Zack throw, that's what you see with him -- there's a purpose to every pitch.''
Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award for the Royals in 2009, when he was 25. He didn't come close to that level the next three seasons but has been among the Major League's best pitchers the last three, giving the Dodgers a 51-15 record and 2.30 ERA over 92 starts. His 1.66 ERA last season was the lowest over a 162-game season since Dwight Gooden's 1985 season (1.53).
Castillo, the former Cubs catcher acquired from the Mariners last season, has been learning the ins and outs of handling Greinke this spring. He was impressed with Greinke's outing on Saturday, as he shut down the Rangers without being especially sharp with his fastball, which generally sits in the range of 91-93 mph.
"One thing that really surprised me today, honestly, was he didn't have his fastball command today but was competing the best he can to give you a chance to win,'' Castillo said. "I can see why he has earned the respect that he has. Today I could see he didn't have his fastball, but he just kept competing and competing.''
Not much about Greinke surprises Hale.
"What we saw across the field is sort of what we got, in my opinion,'' Hale said. "He's so focused, so professional, the way he went about his business as [an opposing pitcher]. A lot of times when a pitcher is dealing against you, you can't hit him and you're getting frustrated, you want to find something that makes you not like the guy. ... But the way he was on the mound as [an opponent], you couldn't help but like what you saw, and the way he went about it.''
Hale believes that Greinke is making the D-backs' other pitchers better.
"Probably the thing we didn't know was what a leader he'd be for the other pitchers,'' he said. "We've known him to be a quiet guy, kind of take care of his own business. He's been very involved with our other pitchers. They ask him a lot of questions. He watches their sides. If he sees something, he goes to Mike Butcher [and asks], 'What about this? What about that?' He's been much more of a helper for the other pitchers on our staff.''
Greinke downplays that role.
"Everyone watches everyone pitch,'' he said. "If they're doing good, you're trying to take something out of them. I've taken something from probably every average to above-average pitcher I've ever played with -- what they do. You see what they do and how you can put that into your game.''
It's only 19 miles from Salt River Fields to the D-backs' regular-season home at Chase Field, but that does no justice to the journey between here and a playoff race in September. The good news is they have a proven winner riding point.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.