'I'm an old man': Greinke flashes wisdom in milestone start

June 29th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- After the 90 mph fastball that  threw to Josh Smith in the top of the fifth inning on Wednesday afternoon ever so slightly missed its spot up and away, Greinke got ready to deliver the next pitch -- and then stepped off the mound to reset.

It caught most watching off guard, as Royals manager Mike Matheny stepped out of the dugout to see if Greinke had hurt himself. But the veteran starter waved him off. Catcher MJ Melendez and third baseman Nicky Lopez approached the mound.

“'I’m starting to get old out there. I’m an old man,'” Melendez recalled the 38-year-old Greinke saying, prompting a grin from the young catcher. “It’s just funny, stuff like that. He knows himself, knows when he needs that break. … He felt like he needed a little time to recuperate. [He] missed two spots in a row, and for him, that’s not really like him. Went up there, loosened the mood and ended up getting the guy out.”

Greinke induced a groundout from Smith and got back on track, delivering six innings of one-run ball in the Royals’ 2-1 win over the Rangers at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City avoided the sweep and snapped its four-game losing streak behind stealthy pitching and Kyle Isbel’s go-ahead home run in the bottom of the fifth inning, his second homer in as many days.

And for Greinke, that 45-second mound visit was indicative of his awareness of himself and what works for him.

After all, Wednesday was his 500th career start. He’s learned a thing or two over that time.

“I wasn’t making good pitches that whole inning,” Greinke said. “I needed a break to try to reset. I think the pitch before, I tried to do 10 seconds in between pitches, then I made another bad pitch. So, I needed the full 45 seconds to try to get back on track.”

Matheny noted the importance of the Royals’ young pitchers watching Greinke work, which is one of the main reasons the organization signed him this spring, allowing him to return to the organization that drafted him in 2002. In the first inning, the Rangers had runners on second and third with one out after Andrew Benintendi misplayed a ball in left field, but Greinke got out of it with a lineout and a flyout.

And in the fifth inning, the mound visit displayed an acute awareness of what he needed in that moment: A break -- and a joke or two.

“He said he missed his spot a few times and needed to regroup. So he regrouped,” Matheny said. "I need to take better notes of the things I hear every day. It’s priceless. And it’s just so smart, too, right? How many of the young guys are just going to keep grinding until somebody makes them stop? We send a pitching coach out or we send the catcher out. But he’s got the wherewithal of, ‘You know what, I’m just off a hair, and maybe if I can catch my breath,’ so he calls a [meeting] and next thing you know, he’s back to dealing.”

Matheny learned something from the mound visit, too: Greinke didn’t need him out there at all.

“I figured it out,” Matheny said. “When I see something off, like with tempo or maybe that he had something that didn’t feel right -- but that was, ‘I’m taking a break, don’t come out here. I don’t need you.’ Happy to oblige.”

The Royals are constantly lauding Greinke’s longevity as he puts the finishing touches on his likely Hall of Fame career. Wednesday was no different.

“Every time I see him go out there, I feel like he executes his plan so well, and he’s so calm, cool and collected every time,” said reliever Scott Barlow, who notched his 10th save Wednesday. “That’s something I picked up on a lot, just how even keel he is at all times. He’s never up or down. To do that over the amount of times he’s done it, that’s allowed him to be as good as he is for as long as he has.”

Even Greinke acknowledged career start No. 500 was a milestone he enjoyed, unlike some of the others he’s hit in his career.

“I like that 500-career-start thing,” Greinke said. “Not many numbers I’ve been interested in. Found out about that last game that it was going to be 500 this time. [I] think that’s a pretty neat little number.”

Wednesday was also Greinke’s 100th career start at Kauffman Stadium. He was asked if that number meant more to him, too.

“Not as much,” Greinke said with a slight grin.