JUPITER, Fla. – When it comes to the honor of starting on Opening Day, veteran right-hander Zack Greinke doesn’t approach the assignment as having any sort of prominence.
“Never cared about it,” Greinke said Sunday after throwing 68 pitches in 4 1/3 innings in a 4-2 loss to the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. “Still don’t care about it. I guess it gives you a better chance of making more starts during the season. That’s the main positive about it. You got a better chance of making 32, 33, 34, 35 starts.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker last week named Greinke the Opening Day starter when Houston meets the A’s in Oakland on April 1. Greinke spent a few days away from the club last week for personal reasons and returned for his second-to-last Grapefruit League start Sunday. He allowed five hits and two runs, one earned, while working on his slider.
“[The slider] hasn’t been really good the last couple of years, especially last year,” Greinke said. “It feels good, but the results aren’t good. I got a good moving one right now, but I can’t control it. If I could control it, it would be great. I threw way too many not-even-close ones to where I wanted to throw them. It’s not a good pitch if I can’t command it.”
Opponents had a .308 batting average on Greinke’s slider in 2019 and .298 last year, when he threw it 16 percent of the time (behind his four-seam fastball at 41 percent and changeup at 22 percent). He threw 10 sliders on Sunday, seven of which induced contact. That included an RBI double by Chad Wallach in the second and a single by Corey Dickerson in the fifth.
“It’s not a bad pitch, just still not a quality pitch,” Greinke said.
This will be the fifth Opening Day assignment for Greinke, who started for the Royals in 2010 and the D-backs in ’16, '17 and ’19. He has never won on Opening Day, though, going 0-1 with an 8.20 ERA.
Astros get good news on Scrubb
Baker said right-hander Andre Scrubb, who left Friday’s game with shoulder soreness after his velocity had dropped dramatically, could be back on the mound in three or four days. Baker said doctors determined over the weekend there was nothing structurally wrong with Scrubb’s shoulder.
“That was the best of a bad-looking situation,” Baker said.
Veteran catcher Martín Maldonado summoned Baker and head athletic trainer Jeremiah Randall to the mound in Friday’s game after he noticed Scrubb’s velocity had dipped. Maldonado said Scrubb threw back-to-back 86-mph fastballs. He was throwing 92 mph earlier in the game and earlier in the spring had touched 96 mph.
Scrubb put himself in contention for a spot in Houston’s bullpen by posting a 1.90 ERA in 20 games in his big league debut in 2020. He stranded 13 of 15 inherited runners and was scoreless in 16 of his 20 appearances last year.
Cishek closing in on a roster spot
Veteran side-armer Steve Cishek, who was signed to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training, is gearing up to open the season on the big league roster, which seems like almost a certainty with veteran reliever Pedro Báez likely not to be ready when camp breaks. Cishek threw one scoreless inning with two strikeouts Sunday, lowering his spring ERA to 4.05.
“We’re preparing as if I’m getting geared up for the regular season,” said Cishek, who is scheduled to work back-to-back games for the first time this spring by pitching again Monday.
Since yielding three consecutive homers in his first outing with the Astros on March 1, Cishek has allowed two hits and no runs with eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. He said he feels like he’s driving the ball a lot better this year as compared to last year, and he is energized by being on a new team.
“Those are good things,” Cishek said. “There’s been outings I felt tired early in the spring and got through it, and outings I felt really good and still got the same results. I’m pleased with where the results are.”
If Cishek does make the club, he’ll make $2.25 million this season. He said he’s not paying too much attention to how he might fit into the Astros’ plans and is more focused on how he’s pitching.
“I’m here trying to help anyone around me get better,” Cishek said. “Coming in as a non-roster invite, I liked it in a way because I wanted that little chip on my shoulder coming into Spring Training where I've been relaxed over the last few years. Just put pressure on me a little bit and see how it turns out. That’s been good so far. The outings have been good apart from that first one.”
The Astros have lined up three additional “B” games in the final week of camp to make up for extra days off this spring, including at noon CT Tuesday against the Marlins in Jupiter. They’ll also play the Marlins at noon CT Wednesday prior to Houston’s game against Washington, and they will have a “B” game at 10 a.m. CT March 28 on a back field at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.