Royals, Greinke sing the praises of new PitchCom tech

March 24th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Zack Greinke is back like he never left.

The right-hander made his spring debut Wednesday in the Royals’ 8-4 win over the Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, throwing three innings and allowing just one unearned run in his first appearance after returning to the Royals on a one-year deal last week.

On Wednesday, he and catcher Salvador Perez also debuted some new technology that the Royals and other teams are trying out across Spring Training: PitchCom, a pitch-calling system that could help improve the pace of play and eliminate illegal sign-stealing. Manager Mike Matheny spoke highly of the device late last week and introduced it to some of his pitchers and catchers during workouts on the backfields.

Wednesday was the first time the club used it in a game, with Greinke and Perez using it for the first three innings.

“Tried it, and I liked a lot of it,” Greinke said. “We’re just going to practice some more. I think I’m going to use it when the season comes. I think it could speed [up] the game if used properly. Speed up pitch calling. Not positive on that, but that’s the hope.”

Here’s how it works: The catcher wears the PitchCom transmitter -- it looks like a remote control with black buttons corresponding to pitches and locations -- on a sleeve on his forearm. By pressing and holding down a button, the catcher can go beyond signaling a pitch type and call the locations -- “fastball in,” or “curveball down and away.” Everyone who has a receiver in their cap hears a generic voice say which pitch was called.

“The feeling in the hat is a piece of cake,” Greinke said. “Hearing is kind of easy too. Just figuring it out, I mean, I’ve been looking down for signs my whole life, so you just have to get used to the difference of that.”

Perez agreed that getting used to using the new system will be the toughest part. But the veteran catcher does think it would help with sign security.

“It’s kind of weird a little bit when he shakes,” Perez said. “I got to go to a different pitch and all that, so maybe I need to do it a little early, right before the hitter is in the box. But I think it’s pretty good. It’s easy. It’s super simple.”

Perez was open to the concept if it helps his pitching staff, and it’s likely that more pitchers will begin to use the system this spring to get a feeling for it.

“I think it’s going to be an acquired taste,” Matheny said. “It’s going to take a little while. There’s a rhythm to it, and I think it’s going to work as a benefit. … They got better as they went. I think the technology is right.”

The technology might have been new, but the way Greinke pitched Wednesday was certainly not. He was crafty, using all of his pitches, and he threw hitters off with his timing and velocity, topping out at 90 mph and bottoming out with a 66 mph curveball.

“I think that was a hard one for him,” Perez said. “But he’s different. Made the hitters uncomfortable.”

Greinke threw around 10 extra pitches in the bullpen after his three innings, wanting to make sure he’s built up for the start of the season. Beyond just his progression, Greinke also has been focused on making small changes to his delivery, working with the Royals' coaches for the past week.

“My main thought is to use my body a little better and, hopefully, it helps me throw a little bit harder [and] offspeed stuff be a little bit crisper,” Greinke explained. “That’s the main thought, just try to create a little more power. … And then the thought is, if I don’t like what we’re trying, I could always really easily go back to what I’ve done the past three years. But it’s probably time to start trying something a little bit new.”

Greinke’s command was excellent Wednesday, placing nearly all of his pitches where he wanted them, something he said was “better than expected.” And of the 12 batters Greinke faced, 10 of them received first-pitch strikes -- something the Royals coaching staff has been preaching to the young pitchers on the staff this spring after Kansas City finished last in the American League in 2021 in first-pitch strikes at 57.3 percent.

They’ve heard their coaches talk about it; now they’re seeing a future Hall of Famer do it.

Greinke has already started to make an impact on the young starters like Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Jackson Kowar. Greinke has made a conscious effort to watch almost every starter’s bullpen or live session, usually squatting behind the mound in the bullpen area to get a better view.

Then he talks with them afterward, giving little nuggets of advice here or there, or simply asking questions about their arsenal.

Helping the young pitchers -- all 26 or younger -- is a reason Greinke signed with Kansas City after thinking back on how much one pitcher helped him when he was a young phenom coming up with the Royals.

“I know [former Royal] Gil Meche helped me a lot,” Greinke said. “We were kind of friends, but it’s not like we did everything together or he taught me how to pitch or anything. But it was nice having Meche on the staff, and I thought it helped me at the time. That might not be the case for every pitcher, but I know for me, it was a big deal.”