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Grading the Impressive Return of Dodgers Ace Zack Greinke

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Grading the Impressive Return of Dodgers Ace Zack Greinke
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Zack Greinke's return to the mound went better than expected.

Unless you're an optimist, of course, in which case it went about as expected.

Making his first start since he was bulldozed by Carlos Quentin in early April, Greinke spearheaded the Dodgers' 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals with 5.1 innings of one-run ball. He gave up five hits, the only damaging one being a long homer off the bat of Adam LaRoche, walked none and struck out four.

Not a bad bit of work for any starter, much less a guy who was supposed to miss eight weeks after having surgery to repair a broken collarbone.

We could just leave it at that...but let's go ahead and take a deeper dive. And since I haven't done so in practically forever, I'll dish out some grades as I go.

 

How Was His Stuff?

Greinke spent over a month on the DL and only made one rehab start, so the big question heading into his return start was whether he was going to have the same life on his pitches right out of the gate.

To that end, what of his fastball velocity?

It wasn't terrible. The TV gun had Greinke sitting in the low-90s, occasionally touching 93. His cutter was getting up to the plate in the high-80s.

BrooksBaseball.net hasn't gone in and cleaned up the data yet as of this writing, but the data that's there says the TV gun was accurate. Greinke's four-seamer averaged 91.03 miles per hour, and his two-seamer averaged 91.57 miles per hour. Both pitches did indeed get into the 93-mph range. Greinke's cutter, meanwhile, sat at 88.33 miles per hour.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Greinke wasn't throwing it by 'em, but he was getting by just fine.

BrooksBaseball.net has the season averages for Greinke's four-seamer and two-seamer in the 91.8-mph range, so his four-seamer didn't have quite as much zip as it did early in the season. His two-seamer was about right, however, and his 88.33-mph cutter average was even better than his season average of 87.88 miles per hour.

As for the kind of life these pitches had, Greinke threw a couple four-seamers in the first inning that were pretty flat. But his hard stuff had better life by the end of the inning, and throughout the game he threw some nice cutters and one beautiful two-seamer that got Ryan Zimmerman looking in the fourth inning (see right around the 49-second mark).

It was harder to get a read on Greinke's off-speed stuff, but it looked to me like he didn't quite have the best feel for it.

When he's right, Greinke is putting his slider and curve down where hitters can't put a good swing on them and putting his changeup on the outside part of the plate against lefties. He barely went to his breaking pitches on Wednesday night, and when he did, they weren't as explosive or well-located as they are in a vintage Greinke start.

His changeup was better, but the one changeup that sticks out from Wednesday night is the one that LaRoche tattooed for a homer in the fourth. It was supposed to be low and away, but stayed over the middle of the plate at the belt and got taken for a ride.

So what we saw on Wednesday night was hardly Greinke at his best. But considering the circumstances, his stuff could have looked a lot worse.

Grade: B+

 

How Was His Command?

That Greinke didn't walk anybody should tell you that his command was pretty good. Also good: the fact that he threw 50 of his 83 pitches for strikes. 

That's roughly 60 percent, which is a tick better than where Greinke was in his first two starts. He threw 59 percent of his pitches for strikes in those.

Not so encouraging is the fact that Greinke threw first-pitch strikes to only 10 of the 21 batters he faced and actually only got 11 called strikes out of his 50 total strikes.

As for the pitches that Greinke did throw in the zone, I noted while watching the game that it looked like he was living up in the zone more than he usually does. A quick look at the strike-zone plots over at BrooksBaseball.net confirms that my eyes weren't deceiving me, as it shows a lot of empty space at the bottom of the strike zone.

And when Greinke missed, he missed pretty badly on some pitches. Specifically, he threw some four-seamers too far off the plate on either side and a few way up out of the zone. Nothing too alarming, but certainly attention-grabbing.

We'll get to what was going on next, but for now let's just say that Greinke's command wasn't awful, but not as sharp as usual either.

Grade: B

 

How Were His Mechanics?

Since Greinke was off for a month and had surgery to put a hunk of metal in his shoulder, it was perfectly reasonable to expect his mechanics to be a bit rusty.

And they were at times, specifically in regard to Greinke's release point. It looked off on some of the pitches he missed badly with, and this is another area where BrooksBaseball.net can help.

I'm not supposed to re-post their graphs here, but go ahead and compare the release-point plot from Greinke's first start of the season at Dodger Stadium to the release-point plot from his start on Wednesday night.

USA TODAY Sports
Aside from a couple slip-ups, Greinke's mechanics looked fine.

There's not much difference between the two, save for some green on the edges of the cluster in the plot from Wednesday night. Those are balls thrown by Greinke, meaning that he did lose his release point on a couple of occasions and uncorked some wild ones.

Still, he obviously managed to throw the ball over the plate much more often than not, and it certainly bodes well that his release point wasn't completely out of whack compared to where it was the last time he toed the Dodger Stadium rubber.

Grade: A- 

 

Overall

Did Greinke have no-hitter stuff in his return to the mound on Wednesday night?

No, but you should consider switching to decaf and taking a chill pill while you're at it if you were actually expecting him to feature no-hit stuff. His return always was going to be about how well he could do battling through rust.

What grade would you give Zack Greinke's return performance?

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And he did pretty well. Greinke battled with the stuff he had, and at full strength, he surely would have given the Dodgers six full innings. Maybe even seven.

And yes, Greinke does deserve some props for helping his own cause with an RBI base hit in the second. If you're scoring at home, it was his first RBI in Dodger blue.

Compared to a brilliant Greinke outing, the right-hander's return was about a C effort. But for a guy making a surprisingly early comeback from a brutal hit from a very big and very angry outfielder, I'd say he deserves better than that.

Grade: A-

 

Looking Ahead

When I wrote about Greinke's pending return on Tuesday, I stated my confidence that he could come back strong and make good on the rest-of-season projections for him that can be found on FanGraphs.

I'll give you the short version of what they said: roughly 25 starts and an ERA in the low 3.00s the rest of the way.

That sounded plausible on Tuesday, and it sounds even more plausible now. Greinke pitched well for a third time this season on Wednesday night, and that's an encouraging thought seeing as how we haven't really seen him at full strength yet. Before he broke his collarbone, he was making his way back from some minor arm trouble that arose in spring training.

Rejoice, Dodgers fans. It's not all on Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu anymore.

Barring any more angry outfielders, of course.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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