Seattle Zack Greinke’s next task after setting a Royals record for strikeouts in a single game? Studying.
Three days after Kansas City’s flourishing ace struck out 15 Cleveland Indians, Greinke spent Friday night watching every move of Felix Hernandez, Seattle’s top young gun and a fellow contender for the American League’s Cy Young Award this season.
“Yeah, I’m probably going to watch him as close as I’ve watched anyone this year,” Greinke said hours before Hernandez held the lowly Royals to five hits and three runs for his 13th win in 18 decisions, a 6-3 victory over Kansas City.
Greinke, 12-8 with an AL-leading 2.43 ERA, said that from his scans of box scores and pitch counts, it appears to him as if Hernandez and Toronto ace Roy Halladay are excelling through efficiency as much as dominance. Greinke sounded intrigued by the idea of precise pitch location low in the strike zone getting quicker outs than strikeouts.
Greinke has 197 of those, second in the AL to the 211 of Detroit’s Justin Verlander.
“He seems like Halladay, in that they just let the ball get put in play to get a ground ball,” Greinke said of Hernandez, adding he was eager to see up close if that was so.
The 25-year-old Greinke said he closely follows all the top pitchers in the AL, including New York’s CC Sabathia. It motivates the sixth overall pick in the 2002 draft.
“If you’ve got other people doing great things, you’re like, ‘OK, it’s possible,”’ Greinke said. “To do those things is not impossible.”
The Indians’ hitters would have been happier if the Royals’ thoroughbred wore blinders.
They were too patient Wednesday while falling behind counts, then whiffed under a barrage of tricky changeups as Greinke broke Mark Gubicza’s 21-year-old team record of 14 strikeouts in a game.
The Royals have taken almost everything Greinke wore that night to display in their Hall of Fame in Kansas City.
“They asked for all I could give them,” he said. “I said, ‘Take everything except my shoes ... and my glove.’ I’ve been wearing those spikes all year and even some last year — and they’ve been doing good.”
Yes, they have. His ERA this year would be the third-best over a full season in Royals history, behind Bret Saberhagen’s 2.16 ERA in 1989 and Roger Nelson’s 2.08 in 1972.
He is 47 strikeouts behind Dennis Leonard’s team record set 32 years ago. And that’s within reach: After he starts today’s series finale against Seattle, he will probably have a half-dozen outings remaining this season.
He’s been a Sports Illustrated cover boy. He’s been heralded as the best pitcher in the game. He has electrified what otherwise has been another dreary baseball season in Kansas City.
Yet Greinke only nods his head and flashes a shy smile when asked what it means to him to be mentioned as a Cy Young candidate, on a team that hasn’t had a pitcher win the award since David Cone in 1994.
“No, I’m just worried about pitching my next game,” he said.