Greinke comes full circle as Royals' veteran presence

Back in Kansas City in his 19th season, righty leading rookies like Pratto

July 16th, 2022

TORONTO -- When  first put on a Royals jersey,  was a five-year-old boy in California, almost two decades away from finally making it to the Majors.

On Friday, veteran and rookie shared the Rogers Centre field, each in his own particular career moment. For Greinke, 19 years after his own Major League debut, it may have been a forgettable night -- four innings of four-run ball in a lopsided 8-1 loss to the Blue Jays.

But Pratto, whose single off Alek Manoah in the 5th was his first career hit, will remember this one for a long time.

“It was exactly how I thought it would be,” said Pratto. “It was awesome.”

The Royals’ No. 2 prospect still hadn’t retrieved that milestone ball when he spoke to the media after the game (“I’m sure they have it around here somewhere,” he said), but he knows he’s giving it to his dad, who was in Toronto to witness his son’s first game and first hit.

Pratto added a second knock for good measure, a double off Anthony Banda -- who also yielded Nate Eaton’s home run the previous night -- and finished the night 2-for-4.

The 23-year-old has cherished every new step that’s come with joining the big league team. It’s also given him a good opportunity to examine his road to this point.

“I’m thankful for all of it,” Pratto said of his journey through the Minors before his debut on Thursday. “It’s my story. Now, we start the next chapter.”

Pratto’s story is just beginning, which is also the case for many of his teammates. Three more players made their Major League debuts on Friday, with Freddy Fermin, Maikel Garcia and Michael Massey all making appearances despite not starting the game.

Greinke, meanwhile, suited up for a Major League contest for the 545th time on Friday.

Selected by the Royals in the first round of the 2002 MLB Draft, Greinke first reached the Majors in 2004, spending his first seven years in Kansas City, winning a Cy Young award and earning the first of six career All-Star nominations. By the time these Royals youngsters were drafted or signed, the 38-year-old Greinke had long established himself as one of the best starters in the game.

The discrepancy in experience between the Royals’ lineup and their starter isn’t lost on anyone. It may seem unusual, but it has worked for this team.

“We all have celebrated [Greinke] all season long with how well he has helped our young players -- and there’s a lot of them here to help,” said manager Mike Matheny. “Just to watch the professionalism, watch how he prepares. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a pitcher spend that much time scouting out the other team and putting his game plan together, the intentionality of how he goes into his preparation -- it’s being watched."

But the results didn’t come through this time around.

Greinke pitched just four innings in the loss to the Blue Jays, allowing eight hits and four runs with three strikeouts and a walk. After a stellar win the night before, there wasn’t much offense behind him either, with the sole highlights coming from Pratto and a Nicky Lopez RBI single.

It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle on back-to-back nights -- even harder against a newly named All-Star in Manoah. Still, there were important takeaways in the loss, starting with Greinke’s composure through the good and the bad.

“Getting some time around him and seeing how he conducts the pace of the game, he executes so well,” Pratto said of Greinke. “It’s awesome to kind of sit back and watch him work and play defense behind him.”

While the baseball world marveled at the weirdness of the Royals’ situation in Toronto -- missing 10 regular players due to their vaccination status and bringing up nine Minor Leaguers for the series -- Greinke shrugs it off.

There’s very little he hasn’t seen in his career.

“It honestly doesn’t feel that strange to me,” said Greinke, who’s seen a lot of September roster expansions and the contact-tracing days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It seems like it happens sometimes, where you play with a different set of players.”

As for watching the young guys find their footing in the big leagues, Greinke seems to cautiously enjoy it.

“You’d like to win a little more, but a lot of it is fun,” he said. “A lot of the young guys have done pretty good, too, not just the ones that just got called up, but all year long. So, there’s positives to it.”