Arizona right-hander Zack Greinke will take the Chase Field mound Monday for the third elimination-game start of his major league career.
The first, he made as a Dodger, in Game 5 of the 2015 National League Division Series, a loss to the New York Mets. The second was Wednesday, in the National League wild-card game. He later admitted he was nervous.
"But, I felt it helped, if anything," Greinke said. "As long as you're not, like, overly nervous, it just gets you locked, like you're more focused and more locked in sometimes, and that's how I felt last game."
Ignoring feelings, he did not pitch well. He surrendered six hits and four runs in 3 2/3 innings, a failed fourth inning forcing the Diamondbacks to empty their bullpen and hamper their chances in the next round. In recalling the events of that inning, Greinke felt he had mostly executed as intended. Only the results were off.
That would be insufficient Monday. From the first two games of this NLDS, as the Dodgers pounded his teammates for 24 hits and 17 runs, Greinke gleaned that his Game 3 opponents are collectively unwilling to chase.
The statistics bear that out. In the regular season, the Dodgers swung at only 26% of pitches outside the strike zone, the lowest rate in the major leagues. That's a 15% improvement from their chase rate in 2014, Greinke's penultimate year as a Dodger.
"It's an ideal way of hitting," he said Sunday at Chase Field. "You just look for a pitch to hit. If you get it, you hit it as hard as you can. If it's not a pitch to hit, they take it.
"I mean, it's pretty simple, but it's harder to do than it sounds like."
He said it would be "kind of silly" to explain his game plan to combat the Dodgers' patience. The Dodgers were more forthcoming. They have not hit for much power in this series, and their stated plan against Greinke is to continue to amass singles.
"I think that's the only way you can approach him," manager Dave Roberts said. "If you try to go up there and slug him, you're gonna have a tough time."
The Dodgers' Game 3 starter, Yu Darvish, has made one elimination-game start in the majors, in the 2012 American League wild-card game. He took the loss, and his limited playoff record has not improved since. In his only other start, he allowed four home runs in another loss.
So it will be Greinke against Darvish, two of the sport's most talented pitchers, yet two who have not yet produced in the postseason. Darvish said he is trying not to think about what a Dodgers win would mean. Greinke is embracing the nerves.
"I know he loves challenges like this," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said of Greinke. "Nobody prepares better. Nobody is going to work more to make sure that on that day when he takes the mound that he's going to be comfortable, confident and ready.
"So, if you've got to pick one guy to stop this situation that we're in, I think we've found the right guy in Zack Greinke."
In his often-awkward fashion, Greinke declined to comment when asked what Lovullo's support meant to him.
"First I've heard of it," Greinke said. "So, I haven't had time to think about any of it. It's tough for me to answer something off the top of my head … without giving it some thought."
Lovullo said he sensed no nerves from his players during a clubhouse walk-through Sunday afternoon. He also said he had not had in-depth conversations with some of those players, notably Taijuan Walker, the 25-year-old right-hander who needed 48 pitches to finish his one and only inning in the Diamondbacks' Game 1 loss at Dodger Stadium. "He may have had an out-of-body experience," Lovullo said. "But I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it." … Monday's Game 3 will start at 7:08 p.m., and the Chase Field roof will be open, the Diamondbacks say. If there is a fourth game, it will start at 6:08 p.m. Tuesday. A potential fifth game at Dodger Stadium could be played at 5 or 6 p.m. Thursday, depending on whether the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs are also playing a fifth game in their NLDS.