'Vintage' Greinke shines with 7 scoreless vs. Tigers

September 28th, 2022

DETROIT -- The last time went seven innings without allowing an earned run as a Royal, he was 26. It was April 27, 2010. B.o.B's “Nothin’ On You” was No. 1 on the charts. Excitement was building for “Iron Man 2” and “Shrek Forever After,” due out the following month. Trey Hillman was the Royals' manager, and a promising young talent named Billy Butler was playing first base.

A lot -- as in, five All-Star appearances, six Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger Awards and multiple nine-figure contracts -- has happened for Greinke since then. But on Tuesday night in the Royals’ 4-3 loss to the Tigers in 10 innings at Comerica Park, the veteran right-hander turned back the clock, going seven scoreless innings with Kansas City for the first time in 12 years.

“So good,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He had everything right from the top. Locating the fastball -- looked like he had more depth to his cutter today than I’ve seen all season. Outdueling everyone with the curveball for strikes, backdoor, below the zone. It was just a great rhythm.”

Greinke worked efficiently, completing those seven innings on 86 pitches (56 strikes). He held the Tigers to four hits and one walk with two strikeouts -- both against Miguel Cabrera.

In fact, striking out Cabrera is nothing new for Greinke. Cabrera is a career .302 hitter against Greinke, perfectly respectable for one likely future Hall of Famer hitting off another. But after two strikeouts in the series opener, Greinke has K’d Cabrera 14 times in 43 at-bats. That’s a strikeout rate of 32.6%, compared to Cabrera’s career 17.8% rate.

“I would have never guessed that I struck him out that much,” Greinke said. “That’s really shocking to me. When we first started facing each other, I was doing pretty good against him. And then the middle part, he’s done really good against me. So maybe early on I got more strikeouts than I remembered, but I feel like he’s hitting over .300 against me, so that’s not too bad.”

Greinke’s seven innings were the longest he’s gone all season, let alone in a scoreless outing. He finished the seventh for the first time since Aug. 13, 2021, in a 4-1 victory vs. the Angels while pitching for the Astros.

"I've seen Zack a ton, and he teased us quite a bit throughout the day,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. “He got soft contact in the air, soft contact on the ground. ... I've watched him up close and personal, and he can really pitch. The art of pitching, which doesn't get talked about enough nowadays with all the pitch characteristics and all the velo and pitching up top, Zack can really pitch, and he showed us tonight."

Greinke leaned heavily on his fastball/changeup combo while mixing in his curveball and cutter. His fastball averaged 88.5 mph, down from his season average of 89.2, and his changeup averaged 85.5 mph, also down from a season average of 86.6. But Matheny wasn’t concerned.

“I don’t even look at the velocity with him, I look at how the hitters respond and whether he’s locating,” Matheny said. “And he was locating well, and the hitters weren’t finding the barrel.”

In Greinke’s 2022 homecoming seaon to the Royals -- who picked him in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2002 MLB Draft, and with whom he compiled a 60-67 record with a 3.82 ERA from 2004-10 (including winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2009, when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA) the seven scoreless innings lowered his ERA to 3.98. Since the All-Star break, he’s pitched to a 3.04 ERA in 10 starts.

In Detroit on Tuesday, Greinke pitched to contact, inducing key double plays in the fifth and seventh. He managed to shut down each Tigers rally before it started, although he said that Detroit’s hitters had a beat on his curveball. 

“I got a lot of outs with the curve, but I thought they took a lot of good swings at it,” Greinke said. “It was weird how good their swings were on the curve. Like I said, they just missed a lot, so I got away with it. But their timing on it was better than most teams’ timing on my curve.”

In the end, though, Greinke came away with seven innings of scoreless baseball for the first time in a Royals uniform since Katy Perry's “California Gurls” was the song of the summer.

“Zack pitched a vintage Zack game today,” Matheny said.