Greinke wild early; teammate pleads guilty

Catcher Chirinos takes responsibility for narrow misses in first inning

October 18th, 2019

NEW YORK -- On the surface, ’s first inning in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series might have portended a very un-Greinke-like game. The right-hander issued three walks -- one with the bases loaded -- to seemingly prime the powerful Yankees offense for a big start.

That first inning was instead simply a blip on the radar of what turned out to be a quite Greinke-like outing in Houston’s 8-3 win on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, which gave the Astros a commanding 3-1 lead in the ALCS. Greinke struck out Gary Sánchez to escape that early jam and then retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced.

"The early walks in that [first] inning was very unusual, just because he rarely misses four times in a row," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "They had very disciplined at-bats. So I think it was a little bit more about them being disciplined. They were going either/or -- they were either going to ambush him or they were waiting him out."

Greinke hadn’t issued a bases-loaded walk or offered up three free passes in one frame since 2017 -- and he did both in that first inning. He first walked leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu on four pitches, followed by a bloop single by Aaron Hicks and consecutive walks to Edwin Encarnación and Brett Gardner, with the latter bringing home the Yanks’ first run.

Greinke’s early issues stemmed from missing the zone with his four-seam fastball, and that was the case from that first plate appearance by LeMahieu -- Greinke missed with four straight heaters. In fact, ball four on all three of Greinke’s walks in the frame came on a four-seamer, and he threw only one of his 11 fastballs in the strike zone.

As Hinch said, missing that often is “very unusual” indeed for Greinke, who had not issued more than three walks in a game all season. And that’s probably because he really hadn’t been missing. Greinke’s pitch map in the first inning shows a consistent dose of fastballs just off the bottom of the strike zone or off the outside corner -- and not any wildness that would have been greater cause for alarm.

In fact, catcher took responsibility for the narrow misses, saying that he modified how he set up behind the plate in subsequent innings to give Greinke a more centered target to hit.

“What I did after the first inning, I got more on the plate," Chirinos said. "Early, with the first few guys, I was [on the] black, in a way, and he was hitting me where I was sitting. After that, I was like, 'You know what? I'm going to make sure he throws strikes.' I went back onto the plate. He was making his pitches."

After Greinke’s fastball was hit hard in Game 1 of the ALCS, when he allowed three earned runs in six innings, it was a much-improved weapon for him in his final 3 1/3 innings of his Game 4 start.

The Yankees’ average exit velocity off Greinke’s four-seamer in Game 1 was 97.6 mph, per Statcast. Two of those hits were homers, including a 110.7 mph laser beam of a shot by Giancarlo Stanton. In Game 4? That average exit velocity was down to a paltry 84.5 mph, with no fastball hit in excess of 97.5 mph.

"He was executing better," Chirinos said. "I felt like his fastball was way better today, especially when we were trying to go up to those hitters. He was hitting his spots. With Zack, he's been in the league so long that when he does that, he's going to have a good night out there. It's a big out with the bases loaded after we walked Gardner. That's the Zack that everybody knows. He gave us a chance to win that game tonight.”

So in the end, that first inning ended up being much ado about nothing. Or as the notably concise Greinke put it after the game?

"Just missing by a little bit early and got better after that," Greinke said.