On the day before baseball’s All-Star game, everyone has a few words to say. The best players in the world gather in one spot, enjoying the fellowship, free of the pressure to win a game.
The day was particularly special for Zack Greinke, who has pitched in the considerable shadow of Clayton Kershaw for the last three years. Greinke has a 1.39 earned-run average, in a year no other starter has an ERA below 2.00. No starter has pitched at least 100 innings and arrived at the All-Star break with a lower ERA since 1968.
Greinke, selected as the National League starting pitcher in Tuesday’s All-Star game, joined NL Manager Bruce Bochy, American League Manager Ned Yost and AL starter Dallas Keuchel at a news conference Monday. Bochy spoke briefly. So did Yost, and Keuchel.
Greinke can be blunt, dry, funny and incisive, far more so than most of his contemporaries. But he does not particularly enjoy public speaking, and he saw no need to change amid the giddiness surrounding the All-Star game. He was asked whether he might like to say a few words, and said no.
After the news conference, Greinke spoke with a handful of reporters. When a television crew summoned him for an appearance, he declined.
“No live TV,” he said. “I always mess up.”
Greinke, in his third and possibly final season with the Dodgers, could succeed Kershaw as the NL Cy Young Award winner. Greinke won the award in 2009, but he did not finish in the top 10 in voting any other time in his first nine seasons. He finished eighth in his debut season with the Dodgers and seventh last year.
“I’ve probably changed more than anyone else in baseball over the past 10 years,” Greinke said. “There have been a lot of changes, going from control pitcher to power pitcher to power pitcher that wasn’t very good to control pitcher that was OK. I’m kind of a mix right now.”
Kershaw marvels at how Greinke manages to evolve and succeed.
“I can’t do it the way he does it,” Kershaw said. “He’s a better athlete or something, because he just is able to repeat and repeat and repeat, and throw strikes, and paint and command with four pitches and reinvent himself over and over again, really with less effort than I’m able to do it.
“Just all the way around, it takes more effort for me. We’re wired a little different, obviously, but I think Zack could roll out of bed and paint. If I take a day off, I don’t know where it’s going to go.”
Greinke is widely expected to opt out of his contract after the season, meaning he would forfeit three years and a guaranteed $71 million in search of a longer deal. He turns 32 in October.
Max Scherzer, who turns 31 this month, got seven years and $210 million from the Washington Nationals last off-season. Jon Lester, 31, got six years and $155 million from the Chicago Cubs.
Greinke declined to discuss his opt-out decision. He said he has enjoyed his time with the Dodgers, citing the league-leading attendance, the new clubhouse, and the coaching and training staffs.
“And we win,” he said. “It’s a pretty darned good combination. If you get rid of some of the traffic, it would be perfect.
“Or: closer to the beach. One of the two.”
How many teams could offer that kind of combination?
“If you take out the beach part, there’s probably a couple,” he said, “but only a couple.”
The Dodgers have won the NL West in each of Greinke’s seasons in Los Angeles, but they were eliminated in the first round last year and in the National League Championship Series two years ago. He does not necessarily believe this year’s team is in a better position to win in October, citing the season-ending injury to Hyun-Jin Ryu that triggered the move of Brett Anderson to No. 3 in the starting rotation.
“Having Ryu healthy is a big difference,” Greinke said. “He was such a good pitcher. So there were three elite pitchers. Brett has done a terrific job, but Ryu was on a different level, even though I am a big fan of Brett.”
The Dodgers hope to trade for a starting pitcher, or two, before the July 31 nonwaiver deadline. However, Greinke does not believe the Dodgers’ front office will deploy the team’s virtually unlimited payroll to make a win-at-all-cost deal.
“We could bring in anyone we want, but is it going to be worth the cost?” Greinke said. “It’s not like this is the last season the Dodgers are ever going to play. They’ve got to think beyond who they could bring in for this year’s benefit.”
Kershaw said last year that the Dodgers’ season would not be successful if the team did not advance to the World Series. Greinke did not deny that the World Series was the bar for success or failure in L.A.
“Probably, but I don’t view it as any pressure. That’s our goal every year, to win the World Series, like it is at most places. In L.A., it really is,” said Greinke, who played the first seven seasons of his career with the Kansas City Royals, when the team never finished closer than 13 1/2 games out of first place.
“In Kansas City, most of the time, if we’d have made it to the playoffs, we would have been happy,” Greinke said. “But our team wasn’t that good.”
He will be the first Dodgers pitcher to start an All-Star game since Brad Penny in 2006. He said his family is more excited than he is, especially his wife, Emily, who is two or three weeks away from giving birth to a son.
“She found a way to get out here,” Greinke said, “even though she probably shouldn’t have.”