PHOENIX — Zack Greinke threw only four pitches before he departed from his first start of the exhibition season because of a strained muscle in his right calf.
What appeared to be a minor setback could have major consequences for the early-season plans of the Dodgers, who will be starting the regular season more than a week earlier than they did last year. Their season-opening series in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks is only three weeks away, and Greinke might not be ready.
"We'll see," Greinke said after Thursday's abbreviated outing.
The abnormal schedule explains why the Dodgers are being as cautious as they are with Carl Crawford, who felt his right thigh muscle tighten in the exhibition opener Wednesday. Crawford downplayed the severity of the injury, but the Dodgers immediately scratched him from their next two games.
"We know if we get any real setbacks, we'll be in trouble," Manager Don Mattingly said.
With Matt Kemp still not cleared to run on anything but an anti-gravity treadmill, the Dodgers would be down to two healthy everyday veteran outfielders if Crawford were to be sidelined. So much for any surplus.
As much as they like top prospect Joc Pederson, they may not want him in the starting lineup on opening day.
Greinke's injury presented Mattingly an opportunity to defend his decision to postpone naming his starting pitchers for the two games in Australia, which will be played March 22-23. (With the time difference, the games are scheduled for 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. Pacific on March 22.) Greinke is one of four pitchers preparing to pitch in the two-game set, along with Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.
"I know you guys think we've been playing with you; it's the reason we've been getting four guys ready," Mattingly said. "We know that at any moment something like that can happen and maybe it changes things."
What happened Thursday was that Greinke felt something in his calf muscle as he made a pitch to Diamondbacks second baseman Cliff Pennington, the second batter he faced.
"I don't know exactly what it was, but felt kind of like a cramp," Greinke said.
He stretched, then delivered another pitch. The sensation was still there.
"Stuff like that will happen all the time and then the next pitch it's gone," he said. "But this time, the next pitch it wasn't gone and then it took a little while."
Greinke was visited on the mound by Mattingly and Stan Conte, the team's director of medical services. Soon after, Conte escorted the right-hander off the field.
Greinke said he would have continued pitching had this been a regular-season game. "I know if something's bothering you, they're not going to let you stay in that first day of the spring," he said.
Even if Greinke remains on turn, he figures to make only three more exhibition starts before the Dodgers travel to Australia. That might not be enough for him to build up sufficient arm strength to pitch in a regular-season game.
Greinke remained cautiously optimistic.
"It definitely doesn't take me out of the mix," he said. "Hopefully, it doesn't. But we'll see how it feels tomorrow."
Last week, Greinke caused a stir in Australia for saying he had no interest in pitching there. Greinke clarified that he had nothing against the country and was concerned only with how the trip would disrupt his routine.
"I want to pitch good. I want to win games," he said. "When you're forced to do something you're not used to doing, it's harder to be able to do it at the best of your abilities. It's still possible, but it makes it harder."
Greinke acknowledged that when the players voted whether to participate in the event, he was against it.
"But more people wanted to go than not," he said. "So, now that we are going, I want to be there. I don't want to not go and have the rest of the team go and have to play and me sit here watching. I also don't want to go over there and watch. I want to go over there and play."
Twitter: @dylanohernandezCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times