A look at what’s trending in Major League Baseball this week:
Zack Greinke: He went for the money ($206.5 million) two winters ago, put up his worst earned-run average in 11 years last year and struggled to hit 90 mph with his fastball this spring. Greinke, certified Arizona Diamondbacks disaster? Not so fast. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Thursday, the latest outing of his revitalization. He is using his slider more often, and more effectively. The Diamondbacks have had defensive specialist Jeff Mathis catch all of his starts. Greinke has a 2.79 ERA, second among NL West starters to former Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw.
That’s the (not David) Price: Teams do not mind paying the price for elite pitching — witness the Boston Red Sox throwing $217 million at David Price — but they do hesitate to pay a premium price for non-premium arms. But the market rate is what it is, and the price for proven innings-eaters has risen in an era when half the starting pitchers are hurt in any given year. Your AL ERA leader: Jason Vargas of the Kansas City Royals (1.01 ERA, last year of a four-year, $32-million contract). Your NL ERA leader: Mike Leake of the St. Louis Cardinals (1.79 ERA, second year of a five-year, $80-million contract).
Minority progress: African Americans make up 8% of major league rosters, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Twenty years ago, that figure was 17%. The Institute reported that 20% of first-round picks over the last five years were African American. Right-hander Hunter Greene of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks could be the first overall pick when this year’s draft starts June 12. And 19-year-old right-hander Triston McKenzie, picked 42nd overall by the Cleveland Indians in 2015, struck out 14 of the 19 batters he faced in a Class A Carolina League game on Tuesday.
Last days of K-Rod?: In 2008, when the Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez set a major league record with 62 saves, he gave up four home runs. He already has given up four this season. The Detroit Tigers removed him as their closer last week, after he had blown back-to-back save opportunities and his ERA had risen to 8.49. His fastball has dropped from 94 mph in his Anaheim heyday to 88 mph today, and he has become increasingly reliant on a changeup that, at 83 mph, offers little variation from his fastball. He and John Lackey are the last two active players from the Angels’ 2002 World Series champions.
Dark days for Dark Knight: No city does drama quite like New York, where Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was suspended three days. The Mets wouldn’t say why, but word got out that he had not reported to the ballpark the previous day, after which the New York Post reported he had stayed out late drinking and pining over his ex-girlfriend, model Adriana Lima. The Mets put Harvey back in their rotation Friday because, well, someone had to start. He gave up three home runs and five walks in five innings. With ace Noah Syndegaard among three starters on the disabled list, general manager Sandy Alderson said it would be “foolish” to say patchwork starters have to pitch deeper in games. They’d like to. They just can’t.
Ring up an error: As baseball tries to expand its fan base, why would a team risk alienating women? A Cardinals social media representative thought it would be clever to promote a giveaway of replica World Series rings with this tweet: “You love baseball, she loves jewelry. On May 17th, it’s a win-win.” The Cardinals deleted the tone-deaf tweet after a swift backlash. The Chicago Cubs gave away some pretty impressive jewelry this season: World Series rings with 108 diamonds in each one, to all the players on their 2016 championship roster. So far as we know, they were all men.
Series of the week
Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs
Tuesday-Thursday at Wrigley Field
On the list of things we didn’t expect to see in mid-May, the Reds leading the Cubs in the NL Central would be pretty high on the list. The Cubs entered the weekend after getting swept by the Yankees at home and losing two of three in Colorado, with five starters — infielders Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell, outfielder Kyle Schwarber and catcher Willson Contreras — all batting below .230. The rebuilding Reds were 13 1/2 games out of first place this time last year, so they’ll enjoy this while it lasts. It probably won’t, with three starting pitchers on the disabled list, 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo with a 5.94 ERA and young arms rotated in and out of the rotation to conserve innings. The Reds’ bullpen has thrown the most innings of any team in the majors. Shortstop Zack “Trade Bait for Two Years” Cozart, 31, a career .251 hitter, is batting .339. His 1.004 OPS ranks just ahead of teammate and four-time All-Star Joey Votto.