Greinke is zeroed in now
With anxiety beaten, talent shines through
When he looks down the roster of the Kansas City Royals, Allard Baird sees players such as Billy Butler, David DeJesus, Mark Teahen, Alex Gordon, Mike Aviles, and John Buck, all of whom were either drafted or acquired in trade on his watch. Yet the one that sticks out most fondly in his memory is Zack Greinke.
This one was personal, which is why no player makes him more proud than Greinke, who overcame a serious social anxiety disorder that got so bad he had to stop playing baseball for a while. To see that Greinke might be the best in the game right now is pretty special for Baird.
Greinke is 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He extended his scoreless-inning streak to 38 Friday night before the Tigers broke through with an unearned run. He still wound up beating them, 6-1, with his second straight complete game.
"The issue he had to deal with and how he dealt with it speaks volumes for the kid," said Baird, an assistant to Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He took a private issue and had to work it out in a very public environment. How he handled it was always amazing to me.
"This game is about personal and business, but business usually wins out. In this case, the personal stuff won out. He was able to work out the personal things and look what he's done as a pitcher.
"He's a unique kid. People will say that some kid reminds them of Zack Greinke someday."
The humble Baird would never admit to it, but his handling of Greinke during the hardest of times was instrumental to the righthander's recovery. Greinke often mentions and thanks Baird for his understanding and help during a very difficult time after Greinke was taken by the Royals with their No. 1 pick (sixth overall) in the 2002 draft out of Apopka (Fla.) High School.
Greinke, 25, has turned into the pitcher Baird envisioned. While Baird hates comparing pitchers, he said, "I see the athleticism of a Bret Saberhagen and the way he can back up that fastball to lefthanded hitters reminds me of Greg Maddux. He has the best characteristics of a lot of great pitchers all rolled into one.
"The thing that's really amazing about him is the touch he has for the baseball, the feel he has for the baseball. He can sense things a couple of hitters away. He loves competition.
"I just want nothing but the best for him every day, except when he pitches against us, of course."
Greinke is one of those guys whose stuff just wows you. There was always the feeling that if he could get over the anxiety issues, there would be no stopping him.
"He likes what he's doing now; before, he didn't like it," said former Sox pitcher Mike Boddicker, who works on Royals pregame shows. "He's one of the top three pitchers in baseball.
"He's got electric stuff. He can embarrass any hitter in the game. With his breaking ball, he can embarrass a lefthanded hitter. He throws his breaking pitch at different speeds and now he's coming up with a changeup.
"He's a kid who came up really early and now he's putting it all together. Now that the Royals are getting good, he should be a dominant pitcher for many years to come.
Greinke speaks to the media only after starts and is still not completely comfortable discussing his past issues. The fact that he's overcome it is the real story. So certain are the Royals about his recovery that they signed him to a four-year, $38 million deal in January.
When he did speak about his malady to the Kansas City Star two years ago, he said he began taking an anti-depressant for the depression and anxiety disorder that ran in his family.
"I just thought that, at the ballfield, I felt unhappy," he said at the time.
Greinke told his agent that he wanted to stop pitching because he couldn't deal with the time between starts and that he missed being a hitter and would often go to bed crying, with a baseball bat in his hands. He thought about quitting baseball all together.
These are the issues that Baird helped Greinke deal with.
Greinke's fastball can top out at 96 m.p.h., and he has a slow curve that he throws at less than 70 - a pretty unhittable contrast. Last Saturday, he pitched what many consider the best game of his career when he shut down the Rangers - perhaps the best lineup in baseball - 2-0 with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
Greinke was a sexy preseason pick for the Cy Young Award, and he has done nothing to quiet that talk.
Koby has a lot on his plateOne of the saddest aspects of the Roger Clemens story is the effect it may have had on his son, Koby Clemens, a catcher with the Astros' Single A affiliate in Lancaster, Calif.
One would hope the Clemens family is strong because between legal issues, the book written on Clemens by Jeff Pearlman that alleges rampant steroid use, and the upcoming book by the New York Daily News team that will paint Clemens as a steroid user and womanizer, it has to have taken its toll on the family.
Koby is off to a slow start, hitting .227 in his second season after being converted from third base to catcher. There's some sentiment in the organization that Koby should be traded simply to break the tie with the hometown team.
The elder Clemens was seen at Minute Maid Park last Wednesday night with his younger son, looking as if he'd gained some weight - and with the weight of the world in his eyes. Astros fans were polite to him, according to someone who was there, though the crowd seemed a bit shocked by his public appearance, because Clemens hasn't been seen very much.
While some Houston fans dream about a Clemens comeback with the Astros, some legal experts believe he could face jail time for lying to Congress.
"It's a horrible situation for Koby," said a major league official. "They should let Koby go to another organization.
"He's probably not going to make it [in Houston] as a catcher, but he does have good power as a hitter and he needs to go somewhere where he can concentrate on playing third base and hitting."
The younger Clemens seems to be handling the situation remarkably well, according to another official, but "it just seems he's holding a lot inside."
This pitching change goes over well with GabbardA few questions for Red Sox lefty Kason Gabbard, reacquired from the Rangers for cash:
Did you see a return to Boston coming?
KG: "Honestly, I was doing my thing in Oklahoma City. I was pitching out of the bullpen and I just didn't think it was right for me. So I walked into the manager's office and said, 'I want to be a starter.' The very next day, I got called in and he said I'd been traded back to Boston. I was so happy. I was so spoiled coming up through the Red Sox organization and the way they treated me and did things."
Was the fit just not right in Texas?
KG: "I thought I started out real well. I pitched really well in my first six or seven starts and then my arm started to lock up on me and it was obvious I needed some work done. The doctors have always told me I have a lot of bone growth in there, so it needs cleaning out once in a while. I really thought I could help that team and I think I was pitching well before the shoulder acted up."
How do you feel about having to go back to extended spring training?
KG: "I definitely need it. I don't have the arm strength right now. I only pitched an inning in a game in spring training. I need to be stretched out as a starter again, and this is the best way to do it."
By coming back, you're returning to a starting rotation that's pretty stacked. Is this the best place for you?
KG: "Without a doubt, it's the best place. The rotation was stacked when I broke into it before. You can never have enough starting pitching. I think I've proven I can pitch good games in the big leagues, and at some point I'll be needed to do that. I think right now for me, the Red Sox know me, they're doing things in my best interest.
In spring training I had no shot to make [the Rangers'] rotation and they decided to use me in the bullpen.
Are there big differences between the Texas and Boston organizations?
KG: "Yeah, it's huge. I don't want to talk about those things. I think player-wise - the players, coaches, managers - they're awesome. The way they ran some things . . . but that's all in the past now. I'm just trying to get myself strong again and pick up where I left off. I'm just excited to be back in this atmosphere again and anxious to get back."
2. Marcus Thames, DH, Tigers - The Tigers released Sheffield because they wanted to create more playing time for Thames. So what happened? Thames suffered a strained rib cage in batting practice. He had been 4 for 18 with no home runs, not so good for a guy manager Jim Leyland called "a three-run homer waiting to happen." Now Leyland is hoping that's the case with Ryan Raburn, who was recalled from Toledo, where he had 5 homers in 47 at-bats.
3. Frank Catalanotto, OF, free agent - "We've had a lot of teams call, but we haven't been able to match anything up quite yet," said Catalanotto's agent, Alan Nero. There is no shortage of teams that could use him: the Sox, Yankees, Brewers, Tigers, A's. Former Phillie Geoff Jenkins is another proven veteran looking for work. "Maybe it's too early in the season, but when things get going, teams are going to want proven veteran backup help during their stretch run," said an AL executive.
4. Jacque Jones, OF, free agent - He's gone to the Mike Easler Fix-It school in Las Vegas and appears to be put together again. "Jacque's balance and timing were way off, he wasn't using his legs, but he's really responded," said Easler, who has also been working with another player trying to make a comeback, Frank Thomas. "I think both guys could help any team right now. They're both swinging the bat great. I think we've gotten Jacque back to 25 homers, 85 RBIs, .280-290. With all of the outfielders going down, Jacque would be a pretty good find for someone." Jones, 34, fell off the face of the Earth after hitting 27 homers with the Cubs in 2006. He had failed seasons with the Tigers, Marlins, and then Reds before being released in spring training.
5. Casey Kelly, RHP, Greenville Drive - Nice start to his professional career: 15 innings, 12 strikeouts, two walks, no runs. The Sox' No. 1 pick in 2008 will shift to shortstop once he's up to his allotted number of innings, which is about 120. Said one scout, "Great poise for a 19-year-old. Really knows how to pitch. His stuff is above-average, good fastball command."
6. Joe Mauer, C, Twins - The anticipated date of his return to the active roster is May 1, and it can't come soon enough for the Twins. He should help their top two pitchers, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, who were a combined 0-6 heading into last night. As one AL scout pointed out, "He's a great influence on that pitching staff. That's the part of his game that gets overlooked sometimes. He's a quiet leader, but he's a leader, and the team takes its cue from him. I think they're going to be fine when he gets back."
7. Pedro Martinez, RHP, free agent: As of Friday afternoon, the Dodgers were not one of the teams engaged in talks with Martinez. "All of our conversations on Pedro took place in the offseason," said owner Frank McCourt. "I have not been made aware of any talks beyond those." The Brewers may be emerging in the hunt. The Mets' starting five is in shambles, the Rangers need anyone, the Nationals need credibility, injuries are mounting with the Jays, and the Astros, Rockies, A's, Orioles, Indians, and Pirates all need a starter. Look for one of them to break down and pay up ($5 million) for Pedro.
8. Mike MacDougal, RHP, free agent - Scouts will tell you he has some of the best stuff in the game, but he needs the right pitching coach to put it together for him. After walking seven batters in 4 1/3 innings, the White Sox' patience wore thin and they cut ties last week.
9. Andy Pettitte, LHP, Yankees - Does Jon Lester remind you of you? "Well, he reminds me of when I was a lot younger," said Pettitte. "He throws hard, really hard. He's got great stuff. Great command. I think he's really talented and I would expect that he's going to have a lot better career than I've had."
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.