MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Greinke OK with batting eighth

D-backs ace welcomes challenge of moving up in order

Greinke OK with batting eighth

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Zack Greinke's third start with the D-backs didn't go exactly as planned. He allowed three runs in the third inning in what turned out to be a resounding 8-3 Arizona win over Seattle at Salt River Fields.

But how Greinke pitched was not the real story of the day. It was where he hit in the lineup that attracted all the attention.

Chip Hale had the .220 lifetime-hitting Greinke batting eighth, and the second-year D-backs manager said it wasn't a one-time thing. Hale wants the righty-swinging Greinke to regularly hit in that slot, heading into his first season of his six-year contract with Arizona.

And that's a good idea.

"We've talked a little bit about it," Hale said. "What it comes down to is if he's comfortable with it, we'll go with it. If he's not comfortable with it, then maybe we rethink it."

Well, don't give it another thought. Greinke said after coming out of the game during the fourth inning that he's fine with it.

"I don't think it's a big deal for me personally," Greinke said. "I would just prefer to bat wherever it gives our team the best chance to win."

So there you have it.

Hale said he's going to experiment with the strategy by having his other starters bat eighth for the remainder of the spring. He'll then make a decision about how often he'll do it during the regular season.

"I'm going to do it here for the first round of pitchers hitting," Hale said. "I'm going to hit them eighth every time. I think once the season starts, we'll probably pick our spots."

But with Greinke, this is no experiment. Two years ago, he batted .328 (19-for-58) for the Dodgers. Last year, Greinke hit two homers, giving him six for his career. The two homers either tied a tight game or gave the Dodgers the lead. Since he led the Major Leagues with a 1.66 ERA, an errant homer here or there was certainly enough to help his own cause.

Hale has watched Greinke's work habits in his first month with the D-backs after signing a free-agent contract worth $205 million, and he has been impressed.

"Greinke, he's into the hitting part," Hale said. "When you watch his bullpen [sessions], his batting practice is the same way. He's very precise and very tough on himself. He's very athletic. Probably could be good at anything. Ping pong. I'm sure he's a great golfer. So the other pitchers have kind of taken that on. We've worked with them really hard, hitting and bunting this year."

There, of course, is a method to Hale's madness. His big boss, Tony La Russa -- the D-backs' chief baseball officer -- used to bat the pitcher eighth often when he managed the Cardinals back in the day. Last season, Joe Maddon left the Rays for the Cubs and used the strategy. At times, Terry Collins did the same thing with the Mets.

What all three of those guys have in common is experience managing in the American League, where one can insert the designated hitter in the lineup without the common restriction of batting a pitcher ninth.

Even Hale played six seasons in the AL for the Twins and was most recently Bob Melvin's bench coach with the A's.

The concept is to make the ninth slot in the lineup a secondary leadoff spot. Hale noted that the D-backs "have some options," using infielders Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings and Jean Segura to hit behind the pitcher.

"We like the idea. That second leadoff spot is really important," Hale said. "We can hit A.J. [Pollock] in the two-hole, for example. The second time around, that makes A.J. the third hitter and [Paul Goldschmidt] the fourth hitter.

"It would be nice to do that. And with Greinke, it should be OK. We want to challenge our other pitchers to do it. And you know what? Teams have done it. The Cubs did a nice job last year having Addison Russell being the second leadoff guy. So why not? Let's see how it works in Spring Training."

The first time Arizona's eighth and ninth spots came around Monday in the second inning against Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker, the theory was put to the test. Greinke had one out and runners on first and second. He struck out looking. Ahmed followed with a base hit, driving in the run. Not exactly how Hale mapped it out, but it was good enough.

Take note as well that Hale didn't have Greinke try to bunt the runners along, a now frowned-upon, arcane derivative of having the pitcher bat. In the new order, the strategy is to forego wasting an out. After all, each inning the offensive team has only three of them to work with to generate runs.

Greinke seemed pretty nonplussed by all this. Just tell him where to hit in the lineup and leave it at that. After all, he likes to hit. It's a fun part of the game.

"Yes, it is unless they make good pitches and strike me out," Greinke said.

Like the one Walker threw on the outside corner?

"Yeah, like that," Greinke said. "It's pretty simple. My main job is to get outs pitching, not doing it by hitting. That's how I go about the game."

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.