Zack Grienke is considered the Kansas City Royals’ top pitching prospect.
Greinke, the Royals’ top draft pick in 2002, was named the franchise’s minor league pitcher of the year and The Sporting News minor league player of the year last season after going a combined 15-4 with a 1.93 ERA for Single-A Wilmington and Double-A Wichita.
This season, the right-hander is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Omaha.
“I know what he can do,” Royals manager Tony Pena said of Grienke. “I know he is ready to pitch in the big leagues. The way he pitched in spring training, he showed everybody that he was very, very close.
“This kid may be 20 years old, but he has the pitchability to pitch in the big leagues. He acts likes a 10-year veteran.”
Greinke will become the third-youngest player to make his first start with Kansas City, behind Bret Saberhagen and Mark Littell. He’ll give the Royals, off to the worst in team history through 39 games, a right-hander in a rotation stacked with lefties.
“We’re not looking for a savior,” assistant general manager Muzzy Jackson said. “We’re just looking for him to come up and contribute, do his job, keep us in ballgames.”
Greinke has not pitched more than six innings or 84 pitches in any of his starts this season, and the Royals will keep a close eye on his pitch count.
“His arm strength is where we want it at this point,” Jackson said. “We’ve built it up. He’s not here to develop at the major league level. He’s here to help the club win. We will protect him with his number of pitches.”
Greinke draws a tough first matchup, as he will square off against Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner.
”(Greinke) won’t be intimidated, I’ll tell you that,” Royals pitching coach John Cumberland said. “Pitching against a former Cy Young winner will be more motivation than anything else. He loves to compete against the best. His stuff is excellent, and he has the mental toughness.”
Zito earned his first win since April 18 on Sunday, giving up two earned runs and four hits in six innings of a 6-2 victory over Kansas City. He had gone 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA in his previous four starts.
The A’s beat the Royals 7-0 on Friday for their third straight win and 11th in 14 games, moving a season-high five games above .500. Mark Mulder allowed just three hits in his third straight complete game after carrying a no-hitter into the seventh.
Oakland has won eight straight against Kansas City, its longest streak ever against the Royals.