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Zack's attack comes from every part of game

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke is paid handsomely to pitch, but he enjoys every phase of the game: hitting, fielding, running the bases. He's an athlete who pitches, not a guy with a freakish arm and no other visible skills.

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Greinke has said, in an off-hand way, that he believes he could have made it to the Majors as a third baseman if he had followed another course out of high school as a first-round pick of the Royals in 2002. He clearly has the tools and aptitude to have been a quality position player -- perhaps even All-Star quality.

Watch how professionally he swings the bat or fields his position, and it's no stretch to see him flourishing as an everyday player. He was considered a prospect as a shortstop at Apopka (Fla.) High School, but his arm was irresistible.

The mound, of course, has been very, very good to him. He has earned about $110.5 million in his career, with three years and $77 million left on his contract -- unless he chooses to opt out after this season for a crack at free agency.

Confident, creative and committed to his craft, Greinke is clearly at the peak of his powers. No one is suggesting he's better than Dodgers mound mate Clayton Kershaw, but an argument can be made that Greinke is not just the Dodgers' best this season, but the best in the National League.

The 2014 World Series champion Giants have had their way with the Dodgers this season, winning seven of nine entering Friday night's series opener, and have the good fortune this weekend at Dodger Stadium of not drawing Kershaw or Greinke.

This eliminated the prospect of a fourth matchup between Kershaw and World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, whose team has prevailed in each of their showdowns this season. MadBum also will not work in this series.

Kershaw has won three of the past four NL Cy Young Awards and owns an unprecedented four consecutive MLB ERA titles. But Greinke has done something not even Clayton can claim. Zack is one of three pitchers in history to own a Cy Young Award (2009 with the Royals), a Silver Slugger Award (2013) and a Gold Glove Award (2014). The others to achieve the rare trifecta are former Dodgers greats Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela.

"When I told him that he was in our exclusive club," Hershiser said, "Zack seemed impressed -- for about a minute. Then he went about his business."

Introspective and deeply immersed in the game, Greinke has everything but wins to show for his labors this season. This gives weight to the popular platform of analytics experts that wins and losses can be wildly overrated in evaluating a pitcher's performance.

"There are some things in this game you can't control," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Zack has been unbelievable. We just haven't scored for him."

Greinke is 5-2 in 14 starts with a 1.81 ERA. Only the Pirates' Gerrit Cole among qualified NL starters has a better ERA, at 1.78. Cole is 11-2, making him the early co-favorite for the NL Cy Young Award with Nationals ace Max Scherzer.

Scherzer leads the NL in WHIP (0.88). Greinke is second (0.94), Cole tied for 12th (1.07) with Bumgarner. Kershaw (1.05) is 11th.

Scherzer also leads in opponents' OPS (.525). Greinke (.563) is fourth, Cole (.583) sixth. Only Scherzer (3.6) has a better WAR among NL pitchers than Greinke's 3.4 by calculations. Cole is sixth at 2.5.

Greinke's most recent outing against the Rangers at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night mirrored his season. Across seven shutout innings he yielded four hits and no walks, striking out eight. He was not involved in the decision.

After Greinke departed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh, the Dodgers registered the game's lone run on a walk-off balk in the ninth.

This extended to eight games Greinke's strange winless drought. His last winning decision came on May 5 in Milwaukee when Greinke doubled and scored in an 8-2 victory. Since then he has yielded 12 runs -- five in one game in Denver -- in his eight starts, an ERA of 1.99. His record: 0-2, six no-decisions. He leads the league with 94 2/3 innings.

When he finally snaps the streak with a win, Greinke very likely will have something to do with the offense coming to life. He is a .247 hitter in his three seasons and 146 at-bats with the Dodgers, producing 10 doubles, a homer and eight RBIs. In his Silver Slugger season, he batted .328 and walked seven times for a .408 on-base percentage.

"I've always enjoyed hitting - still do," Greinke said.

There is no better athlete on the mound in baseball. At times such as these it is understandable if Greinke idly wonders how much fun it would be to have an impact on games every day -- not every fifth day.

Not that he's complaining, you understand.

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer.
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