PHILADELPHIA -- Standing quietly at his locker, fielding questions after another loss in a season full of them, Zack Greinke finally cracked a smile.
“I was excited to do it,” Greinke said. “I thought Taijuan [Walker] might give me a couple of pitches to hit.”
In the fourth inning of the Royals’ 8-4 loss to the Phillies on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, Greinke entered the on-deck circle with a chance to do something he hadn’t done in two years: have an at-bat. A left hand injury to Salvador Perez after he was hit by a pitch forced designated hitter Freddy Fermin to go behind the plate, requiring Kansas City to place the pitcher in the third spot of the lineup.
The Royals trailed 5-4 with two outs in the fourth. MJ Melendez was at the plate. To his left, Greinke wagged the bat over his head, took some swings with the donut on and watched Walker work.
“It gets you focused,” said Greinke. “It’s fun.”
But it wasn’t meant to be. Melendez grounded out to first, ending the inning.
“I think he wanted it pretty bad,” Melendez said. “I wish I could have done that for him.”
When the inning ended, Greinke took off his helmet and gloves, conversed briefly with his manager and walked back to the mound. He got Edmundo Sosa to fly out on the first pitch. Then Garrett Stubbs grounded out on three pitches. Johan Rojas followed with a first-pitch single up the middle, but Greinke immediately picked him off to complete a five-pitch inning.
However, it didn’t matter.
“The only way he was going to hit was if MJ had hit a homer to give us the lead the inning before,” manager Matt Quatraro said.
Greinke’s day was done after 59 pitches.
“It was a one-run game,” Quatraro said. “We’re definitely going to use a position player to hit there. We have to take a chance to score there.”
Of course, that didn’t mean Greinke didn’t ask.
“Oh yeah, I mean for sure [he asked],” Quataro said. “But he understands. It would have been great. I would have loved to see him hit. I wish we were up 7-2 and we could have let him hit three times. That would have been great. But we have to take a chance to win the game.”
Edward Olivares lined out as the pinch hitter. Jonathan Heasley relieved Greinke in the fifth and allowed a two-run homer to Nick Castellanos. The Royals (36-77) had few chances after that.
Greinke ranks third among active full-time pitchers with nine career home runs. His nine career stolen bases are second only to Greg Maddux. He has not taken a regular season at-bat since 2021, when he went 0-for-2 in San Francisco as a member of the Astros. He has not recorded a hit since September 2019.
“I haven’t swung the bat very much so it probably wouldn’t have been that good,” Greinke said. “It usually takes like a month to get semi-dialed in. It would have been not the easiest.”
The Royals used a pinch hitter every time the DH spot came up. Melendez started in left field, but putting the former catcher behind the plate for the first time since April in lieu of losing the DH was not an option.
“Only if that injury had happened maybe in the eighth inning,” Quatraro said. “MJ hasn’t caught in months so to ask for him to go out and catch seven or eight innings in this kind of heat wouldn’t have been fair to him.”
The Royals, who have lost two straight after winning seven in a row, had not been in Philadelphia since 2017. Back then, the National League did not have the DH, so Greinke would have been able to hit. Greinke, who fell to 1-12 on the season, lamented about the new ways the game is being played.
“Every change in baseball has been disappointing to me over the years,” Greinke said. “I would have had a couple more outs if the shift was still on today. I could have hit. … It’s been a lot of upsetting changes.”