ST. LOUIS -- It was a sequence only Zack Greinke could pull off.
In the bottom of the fifth inning of the Royals’ eventual 2-1 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night, Greinke struck out Paul DeJong looking at an 88 mph fastball down and in. Then came a mound visit, where Greinke informed the Royals' infielders and pitching coach Brian Sweeney that he simply needed a break.
“He said, ‘I need to get in better shape,’” catcher Salvador Perez said.
“I told Sweeney he should bring a water bottle out for Greinke next time,” first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino said.
“I don’t think he’s allowed to,” Greinke said. “I just needed a little time. I was a little tired.”
Now rested, Greinke proceeded to strike out Juan Yepez swinging on an 88 mph changeup -- a deception pitch that typically pairs off a pitcher’s fastball and fools hitters because of a significant speed differential.
Greinke, ever the crafty veteran, threw the two different pitches at the same speed on back-to-back strikeouts.
“I think I just threw pitches that weren’t being expected,” Greinke said. “I don’t usually throw with two strikes and locate them really [well]. Got a little lucky, little smart. And execution.”
Execution was the name of the game for Greinke against the Cardinals on Tuesday, throwing five scoreless innings with just two hits allowed, one walk and six strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Royals were stymied by Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, who matched a career-best 10 strikeouts across eight scoreless innings and didn’t give Kansas City, which has failed to win three consecutive games in five chances this season, many opportunities.
“Massey squared that ball up,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Took a good one-hop to the right fielder. But we’ve got to take a chance to score there every time. They made a good throw and a good tag. MJ did a good job trying to evade it, but [Willson] Contreras got him as he was jumping over.”
With two outs, Melendez knew he would be trying to score on a base hit.
“You get a tough guy on the mound, and we get a hit with a man on second base with two outs, you’ve got to try to take advantage of that and try to get across,” Melendez said. “It’s not that easy, throwing guys out at home plate, but he made a good throw.”
Greinke wrapped up a stellar pitching series in St. Louis, and he wrapped up a stellar month of May for himself. After pitching to a 6.66 ERA in April, Greinke posted a 2.30 ERA in May across six starts (31 1/3 innings) -- striking out 25 with just three walks. Greinke’s nine walks total this season are tied for the second fewest in baseball among qualified pitchers.
“Worked on a lot of different pitches, and I feel like I have a better understanding of it now,” Greinke said. “This month, I’ve been executing them. If I continue to execute, the pitches should be pretty solid the rest of the year. But it’s not always that easy to do. I’ve just got to keep making the quality pitches with what I have at the moment.”
Greinke’s slider usage has increased steadily over the course of the season, while his curveball has been a work in progress. He relied on the curve heavily to begin the season, but it got hit hard. So he didn’t throw it much in games while working on it during bullpens, and he’s since reintroduced it back into his arsenal.
On Tuesday, 23 of Greinke’s 78 pitches were fastballs (29%), while he mixed his sinker (19%), curveball (19%) and slider (18%) evenly. He only threw 11 changeups but got seven swings on it – and three whiffs.
“That changeup is a really good pitch for him,” Perez said. “It kind of looks like a two-seamer, which is crazy. Even I have a hard time picking it up, and I know it’s coming.”
Greinke constantly tinkers with his stuff and never has the same game plan against lineups, which is part of what makes him great. So while hitters might never know what’s coming against the likely future Hall of Famer, the Royals know they can count on his stability.
“We can count on him for five, six innings every time,” Quatraro said. “He’s somebody -- just like [Mike] Mayers has been doing -- [who] shows that putting your stuff in the zone and challenging guys, and it’s hard to hit.”