LOS ANGELES -- After dropping a series to Boston without using their two best starting pitchers, the Dodgers opened a series against the Cubs Monday night with Zack Greinke nearly firing a shutout, and Clayton Kershaw on deck.
In a 6-2 win over the Cubs, Greinke went 8 2/3 innings to raise his record to 13-3 overall with a 2.86 ERA, tying a season high with nine strikeouts. He also singled home the Dodgers' first run, raising his batting average to .340.
This is exactly what new ownership envisioned when it signed Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract -- that he would team with Kershaw to give the Dodgers the dominant righty-lefty, Cy Young-winning tandem they haven't had since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
"I think I kind of knew what to expect," manager Don Mattingly said of the signing. "I had a feeling the guy was this good."
In support of Greinke, Yasiel Puig had three hits, including his 13th home run. Hanley Ramirez homered (his 14th) and Carl Crawford had two RBIs as the Dodgers moved to 20-5 in August.
This was Greinke's fifth consecutive winning start, and in August he's 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA. He's 7-1 at home this year and 30-3 at home since mid-2010.
The Dodgers are 18-4 in his starts, and he might be even closer to Kershaw in the race for National League Cy Young this year if he hadn't missed a month with a broken collarbone, then rushed back after one rehab start. He's 10-1 in his last 11 starts.
"He can pitch to a game report, he's got all the pitches to do it," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was a coach in Milwaukee when Greinke was there. "He can pitch to weaknesses, and that's what he did tonight, and he did a nice job."
While he still throws 94-mph fastballs, it's his ability to locate the changeup that has elevated Greinke's game since his collarbone has healed.
"It's the pitch that separates him during this run," said catcher A.J. Ellis.
Greinke said location is the key to success.
"The location was just so much better," Greinke said of his recent run. "If you're able to do that, you feel more comfortable out there to where if you get to three balls you feel you can make some pitches and if you get behind in the count you have some things you can go to that aren't going to get crushed. You're just more confident when you're able to locate stuff."
Greinke nearly cost himself a chance to pitch the ninth inning by issuing a pair of one-out walks in the eighth inning, but third baseman Nick Punto kept the shutout intact with a sensational play to rob former Dodger Dioner Navarro of an RBI hit to end the inning.
In the ninth, Greinke allowed a two-out double to Anthony Rizzo and Mattingly came to the mound to tell Greinke that Nate Schierholtz was the last batter he would face. Mattingly received his loudest ovation of the year when he left Greinke in.
"I've been getting on him the last couple starts trying to get him to let me pitch more, and then he does and I don't do the job," said Greinke.
Greinke hit Schierholtz with a pitch and Mattingly gave him one more "last batter" in Brian Bogusevic, whose two-run double ended Greinke's night at 122 pitches.
"I just feel a lot of times I've been able to go one more inning," said Greinke. "That's just kind of what you want to do as a pitcher is throw as much as possible. I felt like I had at least another inning in me for a while now. If you don't do, you won't know what it feels like. You've got to kind of do it or else you forget how to a little bit.
"Rizzo had a nice hit on a pitch I thought was pretty well located. The pitch to Schierholtz was actually close to where you want to throw it but it hit him. I threw some really good pitches the next at-bat and just battled and on 3-2 he made a good swing and I couldn't finish it out."
Mattingly said he can live with the extended pitch count because the Thursday off-day gives Greinke an extra day of rest. Brian Wilson came on to get the final out.
With the bat, Greinke singled in the Dodgers' first run, walked, dropped a sacrifice bunt and popped out. He's batting .340, on track for a first Silver Slugger Award.
"That boy Greinke is a joke!! #sixtoolplaya," tweeted Matt Kemp.
Mattingly and A.J. Ellis said they believe friendly competition between Greinke and Kershaw makes each better, but Greinke shied away from agreement.
"I will think I threw really good and then he'll do better the next time," said Greinke. "It's not much of a challenge right now. He's winning pretty bad."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.