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Greinke piles up K's with improved pitch mix

D-backs ace fans nine Astros, including Altuve three times
MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

PHOENIX -- There are some things that D-backs right-hander Zack Greinke can't explain. Like why his strikeout totals are up this year, or how in the heck he struck out Astros second baseman Jose Altuve three times in Monday's 2-0 win over the Astros.

Greinke (14-5) fanned nine Monday to give him 174 on the season, and his average of just over 10 strikeouts per nine innings is near a career high.

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PHOENIX -- There are some things that D-backs right-hander Zack Greinke can't explain. Like why his strikeout totals are up this year, or how in the heck he struck out Astros second baseman Jose Altuve three times in Monday's 2-0 win over the Astros.

Greinke (14-5) fanned nine Monday to give him 174 on the season, and his average of just over 10 strikeouts per nine innings is near a career high.

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"I don't expect to strike out as many guys as I have this year," Greinke said. "I don't know if that's going to change anytime soon. But I don't expect it. I've been a little bit surprised by how many I've gotten this year. I haven't really tried to strike guys out."

Video: HOU@ARI: Lovullo on timely offense, Greinke's outing

Greinke has a four-pitch mix, with a slow curve to go along with his fastball, slider and changeup. The slider has been much improved over last season, which could be one of the big reasons he's striking out more.

"I have four usable pitches, so I can kind of play with the hitter's strengths and weaknesses a lot of times," Greinke said. "Maybe that helps, that I have four pitches that have been pretty good this year instead of just two. Then it becomes a little tougher."

Speaking of tough, that's an understatement when describing the difficulty level of striking out Altuve three times in a game.

In his seven-year career, Altuve has just five games where he has struck out three times. The last time it happened was July 18, 2014.

Before Monday, Altuve was 9-for-18 against Greinke and had struck out just once against him.

"There's a couple of guys on every team -- and he's one of those guys -- where you don't even try to strike them out because you're wasting your time if you do," Greinke said. "That's kind of what happened today. I wasn't trying to. But it just kind of happened. I don't think it'd happen very often if we've faced each other another 100 times."

With the win, the D-backs stayed even with the Rockies for the top spot in the National League Wild Card race.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Zack Greinke