The outlook improved at least somewhat Friday night in a start in which Greinke was far from mistake-free, but did display more of his impressive ability. Officially he had a no-decision in what eventually became a 7-6 victory for the Brewers over the Colorado Rockies in 14 innings. But in what was just Greinke's fourth start of the season, he was making progress.
"I was talking to [pitching coach] Rick Kranitz about it, and Rick thinks that this is the best that he's thrown," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Greinke's performance. "The fastball had life on it. I know he gave up some runs, but Rick really liked the way he threw his fastball; down in the zone a lot. He thought his delivery was better today. Breaking balls, he threw some good ones, and then he didn't quite get on top of some others. But Rick really liked the way he threw the ball."
On the plus side, Greinke struck out nine and walked none over six innings. But he gave up four runs on eight hits and one of those hits was a two-run home run to the Rockies starting pitcher, Jason Hammel. It was the first Major League homer for Hammel. Jason Giambi, who has been a particular nemesis for Greinke, hit an opposite-field solo homer as well.
"It felt good," Greinke said of his performance. "I made a couple of mistakes; the biggest one was to their pitcher. And then Giambi hit a decent pitch. That was probably the best I've pitched so far. Felt strong, too. I felt good the whole time. That was nice."
Giambi now has five home runs in 21 career at-bats against Greinke. "I'll be the happiest guy when he's done, finally," Greinke said with a small smile. "He's done very well off me, hit a lot of different stuff."
Roenicke said that he was seeing progress from start to start from Greinke, which would be essential at this point. A cracked rib in a pick-up basketball game during Spring Training sent the beginning of Greinke's career in southeastern Wisconsin into postponement mode. He did not make his first start for Milwaukee until May 4. Spring Training for Greinke has essentially occurred in the regular season, with results that have been predictably mixed.
Greinke's first three starts could be generally categorized in order as bad, good, and then four innings of good and one inning of bad. The fourth start, with the nine strikeouts and no walks, demonstrated the obvious talent of Greinke. He can be a premier pitcher again, even if the 2011 season is still a work in progress for him. But given the circumstances of this trade, he has to be exceptional for the Brewers.
The haul for the Kansas City Royals in the Greinke trade was considerable, to say the least. The Royals received Jake Odorizzi, the Brewers' leading starting pitching prospect at that time; Jeremy Jeffress, a reliever with 100-mph velocity; Alcides Escobar, a shortstop with Gold Glove-caliber potential in the field; and Lorenzo Cain, a multi-talented outfielder.
The Brewers also received shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt in this deal. Betancourt tied the game with a home run in the 13th inning, but his error on a potential double-play grounder in the 14th set up a go-ahead, unearned run for Colorado. Prince Fielder bailed him out with a two-run, game-winning homer in the bottom of the 14th. With Betancourt currently carrying a .258 on-base percentage, for this trade to work, it's basically all on Zack Greinke.
The Brewers made this trade as a win-now proposition, based on their need for starting pitching, and with Fielder a likely free-agent departure after this season. They needed pitching and Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, was top-shelf pitching. The pick-up basketball game was nowhere to be found in the best-case scenario.
It is mildly ironic that the more successful of the Brewers' two rotation acquisitions has been the pitcher who arrived with far less fanfare, Shaun Marcum. Marcum, who is scheduled to start against the Rockies on Saturday night, has a 5-1 record with a 2.54 earned run average, and has easily been Milwaukee's most consistent starter.
Greinke is obviously some distance away from completely regaining his 2009 Cy Young form. But there was enough of that form on display Friday night for the Brewers to be genuinely encouraged.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.