'He's a Hall of Famer': Greinke deals vintage one-hit outing

September 27th, 2023

DETROIT -- As he walked off the field following the fifth inning Tuesday night, Zack Greinke took the ball from first baseman Nick Pratto, who had just made the third out.

For the first time since Aug. 1, Greinke had completed five innings and was in line for the win if the Royals were able to hold onto the lead.

It didn’t go the way the Royals were hoping in their 6-3 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park, snapping their six-game win streak as the bullpen unraveled late. Kansas City had planned on Anthony Veneziano to follow Greinke on Tuesday, and the lefty made his debut in the sixth. He allowed the game-tying runs -- unearned because of an error by second baseman Michael Massey -- before Taylor Clarke and Jackson Kowar allowed a combined four runs in the eighth inning.

But for the first five innings, Greinke turned back the clock in Detroit.

The 39-year-old starter needed 75 pitches to toss five scoreless innings with just one walk and five strikeouts. He fooled a young Tigers lineup -- aside from Miguel Cabrera, who wraps up his likely Hall of Fame career this week -- with a heavy dose of breaking balls and changeups.

Through three innings, he had faced the minimum thanks to a pickoff that erased a leadoff single in the first inning.

“He just never does the same thing twice,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Last time against Cleveland, he threw primarily fastballs. Today it looked like he wanted to throw primarily secondary pitches. He’s very creative. 

“The art of pitching by Zack Greinke is something we should all enjoy while we can. I don't know how much longer he's going to pitch, but he knows what he's doing.”

Greinke has one more start slated for 2023, the season finale at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday afternoon against the Yankees. But only he knows if it’s his last one of his career. A free agent at the season’s end, he hasn’t hinted at any decision made about pitching next year.

But what he’s shown, especially in these last two starts, is that he could have a role on a pitching staff he wanted. The Royals would likely want to see how they could bring him back to increase the chances he retires in Kansas City.

After all, they’ve seen his value to the game in these past two seasons. And how much he’s changed across his 20 Major League seasons. Greinke debuted for Kansas City in 2004 as a 20-year-old phenom throwing 98 mph. On Tuesday, Greinke threw a 57.9 mph curveball to Spencer Torkelson in the bottom of the first inning. He averaged 82.3 mph across all his pitches.

“I was able to throw strikes,” Greinke said. “Not perfect quality at all times, but sharp stuff. Worked good. Wind was blowing in, might have saved a homer. There were some good [sliders] and a couple not located, but they were moving a lot.”

Between 2004 and ‘23, Greinke won a Cy Young Award and an ERA title twice. He’s been a six-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner. Greinke has had to reinvent himself numerous times and is constantly tinkering with his pitches and what he does on the mound to keep pitching.

There are times hitters have no idea what pitch they just saw when facing him.

“Catching him is amazing,” Salvador Perez, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI, said. “For me, he’s a Hall of Famer. When you have an opportunity to catch him almost every start, it’s a blessing. One day … I can tell myself that I caught a Hall of Fame guy.”

With one start left this season, Greinke is 1-15 with a 5.18 ERA across 29 appearances (26 starts). The Royals have wanted to get him his first win since May 3 -- and he put himself in the right situation to get it on Tuesday.

But Kansas City’s offense went quiet after the sixth, wasting a big opportunity in the eighth on Bobby Witt Jr.’s double play groundout and scoring just one run in the ninth after the Tigers’ big eighth inning.

“That’s the first time in a long time [Greinke has] gone five innings,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “To give him that chance -- as always, we communicate with him between innings. He kept saying he felt good, he felt good. I wanted to give him a chance to get the win, and when we added the second run at the top of the sixth, we felt good. Not that that’s insurmountable by any means, but you feel better than just having it be one run.”