Greinke is Royals' lone All-Star
Starter had historic start to season, leads AL in ERA
KANSAS CITY -- Almost certainly, Zack Greinke had his selection to the American League All-Star team wrapped up two months ago.
By May 4, the Royals' right-hander already had a 6-0 record, a 0.40 ERA and was the buzz of baseball. Only two other pitchers, Walter "Big Train" Johnson in 1913 and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, had 6-0 starts with lower ERAs.
So it was hardly a surprise when Greinke was named on Sunday as the Royals' lone player on the AL All-Stars for the July 14 Midsummer Classic at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He was selected in balloting by his fellow players and received 360 votes, most by any pitcher.
"It's real nice to just get voted in by the players because I feel like I've had some good years until the All-Star break and could never quite get on the team, so it's not easy to do, even if you're doing good," Greinke said.
"I thought I'd been pretty close a couple times before and just didn't get it. So I understand how difficult it is to make it."
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. CT. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
Greinke now has a 10-4 record, tied for the Major League lead in victories, and tops the Majors with a glossy 2.00 ERA. He didn't give up a homer in his first 83 innings and has yielded just four so far. He's second in the AL with 120 strikeouts and leads the Majors with five complete games, including two shutouts, and 121 1/3 innings pitched.
"I think he's had a great year with what he's been able to do before the halfway point with the number of innings he's pitched, the way his body's held up," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "He hasn't really lost any action or life to his pitches. When he hasn't been successful as far as limiting run production, it's been more a case of location than it has been life."
Greinke's last start before the All-Star Game will come on Wednesday at Detroit, a factor that could favor his selection by manager Joe Maddon as the AL's starting pitcher.
Hillman, who will serve Maddon as an All-Star coach, likes that idea.
"Oh, sure, I don't think there's any manager that wouldn't like to see their own starting pitcher start the All-Star Game because of the notoriety that goes along with that," Hillman said. "Joe will call if he wants my opinion, but I don't expect him to call; he's got enough decisions to make."
Fellow starter Gil Meche, the Royals' All-Star representative in 2007, believes Greinke would be a natural choice to start the All-Star Game.
"I don't see why he wouldn't be," Meche said. "He sets up perfect to start. Zack's got the best numbers. If he doesn't start, something's wrong."
That would be the peak of a terrific comeback climb for Greinke, who overcame social anxiety disorder and a lengthy absence from the Majors to rise to the top of his profession at age 25.
A first-round Draft pick in 2002, Greinke arrived in the Majors in 2004 and had a strong rookie season with an 8-11 record, a 3.97 ERA and the Royals Pitcher of the Year Award. Yet he encountered a second-year slump in 2005 and absorbed 17 losses.
The next spring, Greinke left Spring Training because of his psychological concerns and did not return to pitching until mid-April. He spent most of the season in the Minors and returned to the Royals in September. In 2007, he spent much of the season in the bullpen but returned to starting late in the year. Then, in 2008, he surged to a 13-10 record, a 3.47 ERA and solid footing as a rotation leader.
His spectacular start this season made him AL (and Royals) Pitcher of the Month for April as determined by reporters and MLB Clutch Performer of the Month as voted by fans for Pepsi. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
When his 6-0 gallop was finally reined in, it was a 1-0 loss at Anaheim in which Greinke went the distance and gave up only four hits, losing to the Angels' Joe Saunders. Although Greinke leveled off at 4-4 with three no-decisions in his last 11 starts, he gave up more than three earned runs only twice and his ERA in that stretch was 2.95.
"I'm just pitching good so far, that's the main thing. If you continue to do it for a long time, that's better than a half-year. But I've been slowing up lately. I'm just trying to get it back into form," Greinke said.
Meche told him what to expect at the busy All-Star period, but Greinke was thinking of another aspect.
"Mainly, it'll be cool because my fiancee's family is all going to be there and my parents and brother are going to be there, so hopefully, I could get some time with them instead of all the other stuff going on," he said.
Well, sure. But there is that other stuff.
"Gil said the Home Run Derby is the best part," Greinke said.
Greinke has always considered himself a good hitter, but when he was jokingly asked if he'd like to enter the Derby, he just grinned.
"I can't hang with those guys," he said. "Maybe if we go to Arizona, I might be able to get 10 home runs in a round or something, but not in a real ballpark."
In fact, he did hit a Major League home run at Arizona four years ago and it was pointed out that the 2011 All-Star Game will be in that higher-altitude clime.
But this year's game will be at St. Louis, and in the National League city, there's no designated hitter and the pitchers are eligible to swing.
"Hopefully, I'll get an at-bat," Greinke said. "If that's what it is, that'll be the No. 1 thing."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.