MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Improved Greinke is having all-time great season

Righty said he watched and learned from teammate Kershaw

Improved Greinke is having all-time great season

PHOENIX -- By any metric -- new or old -- Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke is having a season for the ages. His 17-3 record and 1.61 ERA stand alone in the Major Leagues.

On Sunday, he left without giving up a run in the first eight innings of what turned out to be a 4-3 Dodgers win over the D-backs at Chase Field. It was the 11th time this season he hasn't given up a run, and it was the 12th time sans an earned run.

"The last couple of years I was pitching pretty good, but it seemed like I could never finish one of my outings without giving up a run," Greinke said. "It seemed like every time and I'd give up one. And I'd be watching Kersh [Clayton Kershaw], and he'd give up none. I thought that was the way it always was going to be."

Last year, Kershaw ran the table to a 21-3 record and a 1.77 ERA -- the lowest in the Majors for a starter since Pedro Martinez finished at 1.74 with the Red Sox in 2000, and the lowest in the National League since Greg Maddux had a 1.63 ERA in 1995 for the Braves.

Greinke watched and learned, and his ERA is currently lower than those two recent Hall of Fame inductees.

Greinke's strong outing

"I'm a better pitcher now," Greinke said. "I used to try and strike everybody out. Now I just try to make a good pitch. And then when I throw the next one, I try to make a better pitch."

Greinke also said he's smarter and tougher than he was earlier in his career. All of this is about focus and concentration, closing down an inning with no one on and two men out.

Greinke found himself in exactly that situation against D-backs starter Patrick Corbin in the third inning.

"I went to 3-1 and I was thinking on the mound, 'Wouldn't it be something if I walked the pitcher and then had to face [A.J.] Pollock?'" Greinke said.

It didn't happen. Corbin lined the ball to center for the inning's final out -- he was the only out recorded by a Dodgers outfielder on Sunday while Greinke was in the game.

Compare and contrast that with what happed to closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning. Jansen struck out Pollock and Ender Inciarte, but couldn't finish off Paul Goldschmidt, who walked on a full-count pitch. David Peralta singled and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a three-run homer, turning a cushy victory into a cliffhanger.

But that's what happens when a pitcher can't finish an inning off. Although, Jansen ultimately whiffed Jake Lamb to end it.

"You wind up turning the lineup over and adding to your pitch count," Greinke said.

Greinke struck out eight and walked two, and he had tossed an efficient 93 pitches before Dodgers manager Don Mattingly decided to pull him out. Jansen put himself in a position where he had to throw 33 pitches to close out the game.

Mattingly used Jansen in consecutive games here to protect four-run leads, and the righty almost certainly will not be available when the Dodgers play the Rockies at home on Monday night.

Greinke could have as many as four more starts in the final 20 games, and so could Kershaw. Mattingly said he's trying to keep them fresh because they will continue to pitch a lot, particularly if the Giants are able to compress what is now a 7 1/2-game deficit in the NL West.

Kershaw earns win No. 13

"We're at the point of the year that if I can keep an inning off of him, I'm going to keep an inning off of him," said Mattingly, explaining the decision to pull Greinke from the game, despite the relatively low pitch count.

"I'm just trying to keep him as strong as we can. You get to the end of the year and he and Clayton both, they've pitched deep into every game. The innings just pile up. So if I have a chance to get him out of there, I will."

Greinke has already made 29 starts, and at 200 2/3 innings pitched, he has already crossed the 200-inning Rubicon. Kershaw, who is slated to take the hill on Monday night vs. the Rockies, has made 28 starts and has tossed 201 innings.

The fact that this pair pitches so deep into games is making a mockery of those within the realm of the new metrics who believe that the win for a starting pitcher is no longer a viable way to measure effectiveness. There is some real truth to that if a starter goes only six innings. But Mattingly has a different method.

"The deeper the starter goes into the game, he gives his team a better chance to win, and thus gives himself a better chance to record a win," Mattingly said. "I like wins!"

Greinke's 14th win

Back in the old days, complete games were equated to wins. This year, Greinke has completed one game and Kershaw has completed three, yet they've combined for 30 wins. Why? Using Mattingly's criteria, the pair have averaged better than seven innings a start.

That factor alone shortens the bullpen, and it actually has a ripple effect on the following games, because relievers are fresher when they ultimately have to be used. Under those circumstances, when a starter leaves with a lead, there's less of a chance for error.

Greinke said he's a fan of some of the new metrics, like FIP, which measures a pitcher's efficiency based on things he can control: strikeouts, walks, hitting batters and allowing home runs.

"I don't think they're the 100 percent answer to things," Greinke said. "But when you put them all together, that usually tells a story. I mean, ERA is not perfect. Projected ERA is not perfect. I went three years trying to pitch to my projected ERA, and my real ERA was worse. The last three years I haven't tried to pitch to it, and my ERA has been lower than my projected ERA."

Strip it all away and performance is the only thing. By any metric -- wins, ERA, WHIP, FIP, opponents batting average -- Greinke is having an all-time great year.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.