Zack Greinke's start not good enough in Dodgers' loss to Braves, 3-2

Dodgers' Zack Greinke, an early candidate for Cy Young award, continues to build his case for a big contract

How overlooked has Zack Greinke been? Consider the scene in the first inning of the Dodgers' 3-2 loss to the Braves on Wednesday.

Juan Uribe stepped into the batter's box and received a standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium fans. He doffed his helmet. Uribe was traded before Tuesday's game, but he has become a fan favorite. He is revered enough to have earned his own bobblehead day, scheduled for July 11.

Greinke? No bobblehead this year.

And so it came to pass that the Dodgers' best pitcher this season, an early candidate for the Cy Young Award and the team's most reliable postseason starter, pitched against an opponent who has exactly one more bobblehead day scheduled for him this year by the Dodgers.

But Greinke continues to dominate. He did not have his best stuff Wednesday. He labored early. He loaded the bases in the first inning and gave up a long home run to Cameron Maybin in the third.

Still, he gave up one run in six innings. The nine batters he struck out might as well have been bobbleheads. After yielding the home run, he retired the final 11 batters he faced.

As Clayton Kershaw has dominated headlines, Greinke has been the Dodgers' most dependable starter this season. He is 5-1 and leads the major leagues in walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP). He is second in earned-run average and opponents' batting average. In his two worst starts, he surrendered just three runs, and he still won both of those. On Wednesday, he even managed a hit and a stolen base.

"Clayton has overshadowed a lot of the things that Zack's been able to do," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said.

Each start brings Greinke closer to an intriguing decision. Greinke has three seasons and $71 million remaining on his contract — with an opt-out clause after this season.

How good must he be to risk the open market?

Greinke is, at least, building a case that he would be the best free-agent pitcher in a class that includes David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann.

Greinke may not command significantly more money per season than he currently makes — only Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Masahiro Tanaka and Jon Lester make more. And because Greinke is 32, teams may be hesitant to offer a long-term deal.

The question becomes, is there at least one general manager desperate enough for his services to pay a premium?

Greinke has been among baseball's most durable starters. Since he became a full-time starter, he has never thrown fewer than 28 starts. His previous health issues aren't the kinds that raise any red flags. In 2011, he broke a rib playing basketball. In 2012, he broke his collarbone in a fight with the Padres.

And has been judicious with his pitch counts. Over his career, he has averaged about 90 pitches per appearance (which includes some in relief), and has averaged about 101 this season.

For a contender, Greinke's postseason resume is enticing: He has a 1.93 ERA in five starts.

"He's been pretty good for a long time," Mattingly said.

If Greinke's mind has been at all occupied by thoughts of a new contract, it hasn't shown. He has remained as unrestrained as ever. In his past two starts, his walk-up music has been "Careless Whisper," the sultry jazz number, because, he explained. "It's kind of my favorite song right now."

All along, he has been honest about his intentions. In spring training, he told reporters, "If some things are going good you can use [the opt-out clause] for more power for you, and there is no negative to it.

"Right after I signed my contract with Kansas City, I kind of wished I didn't right after I signed it. My initial plan was to not let that happen again, to do everything possible to keep my options open."

With each dominant start, Greinke's options grow. He might not have a bobblehead night this season, but he could earn a big payday after it.

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