SURPRISE, Ariz. – Zack Greinke threw 64 pitches in his first Cactus League game in about a month and afterward said he suffered from none of the elbow discomfort that caused most of the layoff.
A week from opening day and 11 days from his first scheduled regular-season start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Greinke said he was somewhat satisfied with his fastball against the Kansas City Royals, utterly displeased with his off-speed pitches, on schedule to pitch April 5 against the Pittsburgh Pirates and, by the way, somewhat surprised by a highly patient plate appearance by Jeff Francoeur in the fourth inning. (He just threw that in. Francoeur had walked on several close pitches.)
"It was all right," Greinke said. "Not good though."
He last pitched in a spring training game March 1. He then missed a start because of the flu. After a subsequent bullpen session, he reported that his elbow was sore. Eventually termed a "bruised" elbow, it was treated with rest and a platelet-rich injection.
These are the kinds of developments – No. 2 starters with possible elbow issues – that shorten the life spans of general managers. That it is Greinke, who is due $147 million over the next six seasons, would only heighten the suspense.
For such occasions, the Dodgers have kept a raft of starting pitchers in camp. Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly are among those below fifth on the depth chart. Beyond Greinke, Chad Billingsley had elbow issues at the end of last season and is recovering from a bruised finger on his pitching hand.
Greinke was supposed to slot behind Clayton Kershaw in the rotation. The plan changed with the sore elbow, however, and now the organizational hope is that Greinke will be available in the fourth spot, behind Kershaw, Billingsley and Josh Beckett.
In the coming days – he is due to start again Saturday in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels – Greinke said his focus would be on arm strength and off-speed pitches. (Also, perhaps, being more aggressive against Jeff Francoeur.) His first 40-or-so pitches Monday night seemed satisfactory. He walked the first three batters of the fourth inning, however, bringing his pitch count to an early arrival. His final line: 3-plus innings, 6 hits, 5 runs, 5 earned runs, 3 walks, 2 strikeouts.
"A lot needs to be improved," Greinke said. "The change was good, so there's one positive. I felt strong still. I must not have been, walking three in a row. I thought I felt good. The results didn't imply that."
[Related: SP Kyle Loshe signs with Brewers]
According to the Surprise Stadium radar gun, Greinke was steady with his fastball in the 91-mph range, then pushed the velocity to 94 when the situation called for it. In the first three innings, 32 of his 44 pitches were for strikes. Of the next 20, through the last batter he faced (Francoeur), eight were strikes. That's when Don Mattingly came for the ball, and Greinke had an idea of what would have to come over the next week-and-a-half, most of which he assumed was fixable.
"Francoeur had an at-bat you don't expect from him," Greinke said with a sly smile.
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