Greinke sharp as injuries mount for LA

D-backs' new ace unveils 'midseason form' in spring debut

March 5th, 2016

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There's a theory floating around in the industry that was never realistically going to remain with the Dodgers. That a deeply analytical front office with little stomach for the gargantuan acquisition cost for premier pitching -- be it in dollars or in prospects -- was never going to give him that sixth year or that last dollar. That Greinke himself was a little leery of the way the Dodgers tried to get creative, rather than aggressive, in patching up their rotation behind him and midway through what was, for Greinke, a historic 2015 season.

Maybe it's accurate, maybe it's not. But as if there were any doubt that Greinke's defection from an established National League West power to a potentially rising one is going to be a fascinating storyline this season, the steady stream of pitcher injury news emanating out of Dodgers camp makes Greinke's move to the D-backs, for whom he made his Cactus League debut Friday at Salt River Fields, all the more meaningful.

Did Greinke view the Dodgers' tact at last summer's Trade Deadline -- shying away from or and instead landing and -- as a sure signal of the way the Andrew Friedman-led front office intends to build a starting staff and, ergo, a sign that his L.A. days were numbered?

It's a fair question that, in the wake of Greinke's D-backs debut, received a fair answer.

"I have a politically correct answer that I actually believe," Greinke said. "But I don't think it's a good question to respond to, being on a different team -- whatever I say, whether it's extremely positive or not."

So let's just say this: It is understandable for the Dodgers -- or any team, for that matter -- to tread carefully in the realm of major long-term commitments to pitchers, especially at a time when they are proving more fragile than ever.

But at the same time, if there's a guy who seems poised to age gracefully, it's the 32-year-old Greinke, and some evidence of that was on display in an exhibition showing that was, as one NL scout in the house put it, "midseason form already."

Greinke threw two innings in which he allowed a hit and struck out a pair efficiently enough that he had to go to the bullpen to get in the rest of his scheduled work. Afterward, he told reporters he didn't feel the slightest trace of nerves wearing a new uniform. In fact, Greinke used the morning to catch up on some phone calls he had been meaning to return.

Having been through the spring grind and enough minor spring injuries to know how to prepare at his own pace, Greinke seems utterly unaffected by the move and the pressure surrounding him after signing that six-year, $206.5 million contract. Maybe that will change when the lights are on and the results matter, but, well, probably not. Greinke is all business, and that extended to his offseason pursuit of the highest average annual value in the game.

What was notable in this exhibition effort was just how on-point Greinke's full arsenal of pitches was, and that includes the changeup that makes him a good candidate to enjoy a Greg Maddux-like run of sustained excellence in his 30s.

"It was really good today," Greinke said of the pitch. "It's been all right [in bullpens and live BP sessions], but today was the best it's been so far this spring."

Greinke's changeup is an important part of his evolution and his ability to lower his average ERA (it was 3.82 from 2004-11 and 2.61 from 2012-15) despite a rising age. As this chart illustrates, the whiff percentage generated by the pitch has generally trended upward as Greinke has gotten older:

"Just trying it in more situations and feeling more confident in it," Greinke explained. "That's the biggest thing, is just developing more confidence in it, to use it differently."

Greinke has already survived and thrived in the face of the natural adjustments that come with exposure and age. When a slider that was dominant in his 2009 Cy Young season began to wane in effectiveness, he briefly experimented with a cutter. When the cutter proved lacking, Greinke brought the slider back for an encore and began more frequently employing the change.

The tinkering will no doubt continue in a new uniform. And Greinke's deeply analytical approach and understanding of the ins and outs of the game (he's already helping the D-backs with their scouting efforts) -- to say nothing of his ability to field his position and his fine hitting (by pitcher standards, that is) -- make him as safe as a $206.5 million pitching gamble can be (a relative assessment, naturally).

"It's hard to believe, with their budget, that the Dodgers drew a line," the scout said.

That they did only sets up a fascinating subplot to the 2016 NL West race -- one that grew more fascinating with Greinke making his D-backs debut just a bit more than 24 hours after the Dodgers announced 's surgery.

Maybe the Dodgers and Greinke simply weren't destined to re-up with each other. But their stories will remain intertwined for the foreseeable future.