Arizona Diamondbacks: Zack Greinke Needs to Bounce Back in Second Start

Apr 2, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke against the San Francisco Giants during opening day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke against the San Francisco Giants during opening day at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Arizona Diamondbacks need Zack Greinke to pitch like their ace against Cleveland on Saturday.

Zack Greinke is already 33 years old, but he’s in the second season of a six-year contract that will pay him at least $34 million each year. He’s the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ unquestioned ace, but has yet to produce like it through his first year and one start.

After owning a 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP over 222.2 innings in 32 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Greinke followed it up with a lackluster 4.37 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 158.2 innings and 26 starts with the Diamondbacks in 2016. In fact, his ERA didn’t reach below 4.00 until June 7, and he allowed seven or more runs four times.

His slow start of owning a 5.50 ERA through six starts in April snowballed. His only month with an ERA below 3.00 came in June, when he had a stellar 1.63 ERA over six starts, and his only other month with an ERA below 4.00 came in May, when he had a 3.82 ERA.

He needed to get off to a better start in 2017, to say the least. Against the San Francisco Giants, Greinke pitched against an unfair Madison Bumgarner, who had a perfect game going into the sixth inning, but settled for the no-decision after a late comeback by Arizona.

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Still, Greinke’s five-inning performance, which took him 92 pitches, was underwhelming. He only allowed two earned runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out four, but the Giants made him work harder than Arizona hoped for. Greinke only pitched one one-two-three inning, and a runner reached second base in all but one inning.

Failing to get into a consistent groove is something Greinke struggled with a season ago, too. While one might say his 2017 sample size is too small, remember that he pitched significantly better on the road than at home last season, as well.

On the road, Greinke owned a 3.94 ERA and 1.163 WHIP compared to his 4.81 ERA and 1.386 WHIP at home, starting 13 games each. Opposing teams also hit an unsettling .275/.328/.462 against him in Arizona.

Part of the reason Greinke struggled at Chase Field could be due to it being a “hitter’s park”.  That hasn’t stopped Greinke from pitching well at Chase Field in the past, though. Here’s a look at his three-year career with the Dodgers compared to last season.

  • 2017: 1 S, 0-0, 5.0 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.200 WHIP
  • 2016: 13 S, 5-5, 78.2 IP, 4.81 ERA, 1.386 WHIP
  • 2015: 2 S, 2-0, 15.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.667 WHIP
  • 2014: 2 S, 2-0, 13.1 IP, 0.68 ERA, 1.125 WHIP
  • 2013: 2 S, 2-0, 13.0 IP, 1.38 ERA, 0.846 WHIP

After averaging just shy of seven innings per start at Chase Field with the Dodgers (6.89 innings), Greinke only pitched an average of 6.05 innings at home last season. A mixture of not pitching well and high pitch counts forced the Diamondbacks to go to their bullpen early.

With the Cleveland Indians in Arizona for a weekend series, the Diamondbacks need their ace to pitch like he’s worth $34 million for them to have a shot at winning. He will be making his second start of the season, again at home, and that might concern some people considering the high-powered offense Cleveland has.

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However, it’s more than simply winning their sixth game of the season. This is a great measuring stick game for Greinke. Cleveland is averaging seven runs per game after their season-opening series sweep over the Texas Rangers, while many are still waiting to see the Greinke of the past.

No one is expecting Greinke to throw a complete game shutout against the AL Central favorites, but pitching well and deep into the game against top competition is why Arizona is paying him the second-highest contract among starting pitchers this season.

Cleveland also has a lineup that hasn’t seen much of Greinke. The only players on Cleveland with hits off of him are Michael Brantley (2-for-3) and Austin Jackson (2-for-10). But players like Carlos Santana (0-for-4), Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion have either never faced him or are hitless against him.

For as much as people don’t want to put too much weight on the first couple starts of the season, it’s important that Greinke gets off to a better start than in 2016. He didn’t look that sharp in his first outing, but it was also Opening Day, so he’s still far from midseason form.

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These are the types of games you want your ace pitching in, and pitching well in. No one is expecting Greinke to return to his 2015 form, but 2016 was a nightmare for Arizona. A strong start against a World Series favorite would instill more confidence in him, but he’ll be hit hard if he doesn’t improve on his first start of the season.