Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Zack Greinke: The Pitcher Who Cries 'Foul'

The Dodgers have shown signs of life exactly two times this season, April 11 and June 11. Both were Zack Greinke starts, both involved brawls with division rivals opponents. It is hard to call the San Diego Padres or the Arizona Diamondbacks any teams rival, especially when their opponent is mired in last place as the Dodgers currently are. It is mere coincidence that both starts occurred on the 11th of a month; it is no coincidence that Greinke was in the center of it. Greinke's stand-offish demeanor hides the sad bully lurking within, waiting to lash out at perceived slights, then hiding behind a victim's veil when the spotlight shines. 

A brief recap of the man. In the 2010-2011 offseason, Greinke demanded a trade from the Kansas City Royals, reportedly because he did not feel motivated being part of a rebuilding team. This was in the midst of his 4 year/$38 million dollar contract he signed in January of 2009. Part of the basis for this contract was built upon his reputation for pinpoint control. He has hit only 48 batters of the 6421 faced in his career. Between 2009 and 2010, Grienke hit 11 batters, including Carlos Quintin.

Today, Zack Greinke is a solid pitcher who is getting paid like an ace (6year/$147 million) based off one elite season in 2009 (AL Cy Young Award Winner/All-Star) and several slightly above average ones. Since 2011, he has beaned 9, including 3 this season. Put another way, 1/3 of his total hit batsmen for the last three seasons has occurred over 2 starts against division rivals.

In the April 11 incident, Grienke beaned Quintin, the most beaned man in his league the last 2 seasons. Steps were taken, barbs were traded, neither backed down and it ended with Grienke breaking his collarbone. Quintin had been beaned twice previously by Grienke when they were division rivals in the AL Central where Quintin was a member of the Chicago White Sox. Apparently for Quintin, three beans and you charge. Deciding right and wrong in a baseball brawl is an exercise in futility. Batters feel slighted for getting hit, pitchers get incensed (or at least feign surprise) when they are accused of throwing at a batter intentionally. So it happened in San Diego: Quintin challenged Grienke and Grienke refused to back down. Suspensions and DL stints resulted.

Last night was slightly different, but Grienke once again played center stage. It began in the 5th inning when Cody Ross was plunked by Grienke. The next batter, Jason Kubel, homered and usually that is a tit-for-tat that most teams will take. In the bottom of the sixth however, Ian Kennedy (who led the NL in hit batsmen last season) came in high and tight and hit rookie phenom Yasiel Puig on the nose. The next batter, Andre Ethier, promptly tied the game with a two-run home run. Again it easily could have been over here, unless you think Kennedy meant to throw at Puig's head.

Grienke felt he did. The next inning he threw behind Arizona catcher Miguel Montero hitting him in the back. Throwing behind a batter belies any attempt to claim a loss of control. It is done deliberately and meant to send a message. He did not attempt to go after Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona's big slugger. If that was a lesson beaten into him by Quintin or not is a moot point today. He went after the most important batter he knew he would face the next inning. This was unnecessary given the result and the current game score (2-2), but much like in San Diego, Grienke cared more about getting the final bean in than the outcome of the game.

That Ian Kennedy would respond in kind and plunk Grienke with yet another head high fastball was a near certainty when he was allowed to bat for himself. The brawl played out, ejections occurred and the scrum was pretty entertaining.

Grienke was even allowed to stay in and run for himself when everything was said and done. He slid hard through Didi Gregorius legs at second on a force out that brought only a sad head shake from the rookie shortstop. Even when he was not on the mound Grienke was determined to get the last lick in.

While never the friendliest guy on the diamond, Greinke's ego appears to have grown to match his paycheck. Even after cementing himself in the middle of the controversy, he plays the role of the victim. When he left KC, he downplayed demanding a trade and claimed it was for KC's benefit. After hitting Quintin, it was all about how he would be out longer with the injury. And on a warm June night the spin will be how he was plunked last before the melee ensued.

Ultimately, he may be most upset that despite his growing paycheck he is once again playing for a non-contender or he might be mad that he missed out on the Nolan Ryan school of mound defense. Either way, he needs to take accountability for his actions or at least stop playing the victim. Look beyond who was hit last and you will see Greinke standing tall on the mound, a thin-skinned bully with a fastball, bound and determined to get his. I may be at the forefront, but the rest of the villagers need to pay attention and stop reacting when he cries foul.

Comments and feedback are always welcome below