SURPRISE! Ariz. — For my final outing on this year's spring swing, I chose a different type of theater: Watching Zack Greinke(notes) pitch for the Triple-A Omaha Royals on one of the back diamonds at Surprise Baseball Complex on Sunday afternoon.
What I ended up seeing was even more unusual than when I visited White Sox camp to find that Ozzie Guillen wasn't up to talking.
Greinke, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, struggled against a group of Padres minor leaguers, giving up two runs and six hits over five innings of work. Of the 77 pitches that Greinke threw, only 38 went for strikes.
"I was trying to throw a strike every pitch, so that was really bad," Greinke said afterward. "Even the strikes weren't where I wanted them to be. The last pitch of the game was probably the only one where I hit my spot."
To be clear, Greinke's time with the minor leaguers wasn't a form of penance for previous spring struggles. He's sporting a 0.90 ERA and eight strikeouts through 10 exhibition innings against the Rangers, Rockies and White Sox.
Sunday's appearance, rather, was designed as a way for Greinke to step out of the spotlight and experiment with his pitches in a relaxed setting. The ironic part was that his presence in one of the smaller tents ended up attracting more press interest than the Rockies-Royals game being held in the main ballpark. Most of Kansas City's lower-level minor leaguers also lined up behind the backstop to watch and a decent amount of fans wandered over to see the pitching maestro work up close.
But, if they were like me and came expecting to see him embarrass Josh Barfield(notes) and his friends, they all left disappointed. The only thing our up-close view through the chain-link fence gave us was the chance to see Greinke spray about 55 or 60 fastballs all over the zone. One high offering in the first inning was turned into a two-run homer by Chad Huffman, who was sent to Triple-A Portland earlier in the day after going 1-for-23 this spring.
"I got probably 100 outs on that (high fastball) last year and (gave up) zero home runs," Greinke said. "That was unexpected. It was right where I wanted to throw it ... 99 out of 100 times it won't be a home run."
Greinke is right in suggesting there are no real reasons to worry. His pitch selection did not mirror what he'd use in a real outing and he threw only one slider. That will obviously change over his final two spring starts, during which he plans to exercise his full repertoire in preparation for his opening day start against Detroit.
"I never really felt like I wasn't up for it," Greinke said. "I just pitched bad."
* * *'Duk is in Arizona this week to finish Big League Stew's Desert Drive. Ride shotgun with him on Twitter — @bigleaguestew.