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In late February, Royals nation recoiled in horror at the news that pitching phenom Zack Greinke had left spring training to deal with what was described as “emotional issues.” There are few players in the Royals’ system who are more crucial to the organization’s future than Greinke, and news of his departure was akin to a punch in the gut. Thankfully, after a couple of months, Greinke returned to the organization, and he began his long road back to the majors with Wichita in June.
Greinke got off to a slow start in Wichita, and his ERA after a no decision on June 28 – his fifth start – stood at a robust 7.62. However, both Greinke and Royals GM Dayton Moore, who was at that game in late June, were very positive about Greinke’s performance. Even though he had allowed six hits and four earned runs in 4.1 IP, it was the first time that Greinke had shown command of three pitches – his fastball, curve, and change – and he told the KC Star that he felt he’d be “back to normal” after two more starts with Wichita.
Perhaps Greinke should add “prophet” to his list of talents. In his next start on July 3, Greinke dominated the Springfield Cardinals, tossing a complete game two-hitter while striking out 12 batters. RC was on hand, and we spoke with Greinke after the game. Aside from labeling that outing as his “best ever,” Greinke told us that it was the first time his slider had been good all year. He was reserved about the start, however, saying that it was merely his first good outing of the season, and it was “nothing to get too excited about.”
We wonder if it might be time to get excited now. On Monday, Greinke registered his fourth straight outstanding start, picking up the victory after tossing seven excellent innings. He surrendered one run on five hits and a walk while striking out seven, and the win gave the Wranglers a five-game lead in the Texas League’s North Division. Greinke has now won four straight decisions, pushing his record to 7-2, and his ERA now stands at 4.36. In his last four games, Greinke has allowed only three earned runs and 19 hits in 27 innings pitched (1.00 ERA) while striking out 30 batters and walking just two (0.78 WHIP).
Greinke warms up before his start on July 3 vs. the Springfield Cardinals
Of course, his success actually began with that complete game victory over Springfield in early July. In his last nine games, beginning with that start, Greinke has gone 6-1 with a 2.91 ERA in 58.2 IP. He’s allowed 47 hits and eight walks (0.94 WHIP) while striking out 63, and he’s averaged 6.5 innings per outing. In fact, if you remove the only real blemish from that nine-game sample – a 4.2 IP, 8 ER no decision in a slugfest with Tulsa on July 24 – Greinke’s ERA over the stretch goes down to 1.83, and his WHIP reduces to 0.84.
Any way you slice the numbers, Greinke has been dominant for the last six weeks, and it will be interesting to see if the Royals decide to move him up, either to Omaha or Kansas City, in the near future. They resisted the temptation last week, instead opting for Adam Bernero when they needed an additional starter for the rotation to cope with a pair of doubleheaders. Moore was actually asked about Greinke’s timetable shortly after his complete game win on July 3.
“This was his first dominant outing,” Moore told the KC Star in June. “Let him have four or five dominant outings. I’ve always used that as a guideline. If somebody dominates a league four or five straight starts, then you consider moving him.”
One has to wonder if the plans are beginning to change, now that Greinke seems to be well on his way to completing Moore’s prerequisite. If Greinke continues to throw this well, perhaps we’ll see him rejoin the Royals in September, or possibly sooner. Of course, it’s equally likely that the Royals will be content with letting Greinke finish the season in Wichita on a high note. Regardless of what happens, it’s becoming clear that Greinke is again putting himself in the mix for a spot in the 2007 rotation, and after the way this season began, that’s the best news of all.
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