In a game the Diamondbacks had to have, right-hander Zack Greinke was there to play “stopper” in an 8-4 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, snapping a four-game losing streak in the process.
Greinke lasted seven innings and yielded two runs while picking up his second win of the season. It wasn’t a perfect start by any means, but it was one the Diamondbacks desperately needed.
“Everybody thinks a stopper is the closer or the last guy into a game but there are stoppers in the rotation,” Lovullo said. “Zack has been a stopper for us in a lot of moments. You look around and see that he’s out there, it’s a really good feeling. I think it energized our guys today; that’s my gut feel. I felt like we had an energized group, and Zack set the tone.”
The Diamondbacks (7-9) hadn’t won since Greinke’s last start on Tuesday. It took a turn through the entire rotation for the club to win again, and Greinke made a significant impact in Sunday’s game.
In addition to posting a proficient outing from the mound, Greinke also finished with two hits and several adept plays in the field. Sunday was another example of the different ways Greinke can influence a game.
“Not only is he a really good pitcher,” Lovullo said, “but he picks up ground balls, throws crisply to bases. He’s one of the best fielding pitchers … and then I looked up at his career numbers offensively and they’re respectable for an up-and-down position player. Just a pretty special talent.”
Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke breaks down winning effort vs. Padres
Richard Morin, azcentral sports
Lovullo suggested it was a testament to Greinke’s mental toughness how quickly the right-hander settled down after allowing a solo home run to Manuel Margot, the game’s first hitter. Greinke stayed the course and Diamondbacks center fielder Ketel Marte blasted a two-run home run to give Arizona a 2-1 lead after three innings.
The Padres would tie the game in the fifth when Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. took Greinke deep, but Diamondbacks second baseman Ildemaro Vargas pushed them back ahead in the bottom of the inning when he plated Greinke with a run-scoring double.
Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta gave Greinke some insurance when he belted a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the sixth inning. Right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano allowed two runs in the eighth inning but closer Greg Holland shut the door in the ninth.
But in evaluating his team’s effort on Sunday, it was Greinke’s performance that stuck out to Lovullo.
“I felt like Zack went out and executed a terrific game plan and did exactly what we needed,” Lovullo said. “He gave us that extra inning (in the seventh) where we could maneuver things in the bullpen. We had that big home run from David that allowed Zack to go back out there and give us a mini-blow in the bullpen.”
Although Greinke hasn’t been a regular contender for the Cy Young award since signing a six-year, $206 million contract prior to the 2016 season, outings like Sunday validate Greinke’s title as the ace of the Diamondbacks’ staff.
“It started and stopped with Zack,” Lovullo said of Sunday’s game. “That’s why he’s our ace.”
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It should also be noted that Lovullo elected to pinch-hit for catcher John Ryan Murphy in the sixth inning (the spot in which Peralta homered), which forced Caleb Joseph into the game to catch Greinke for the seventh inning.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo on 8-4 win vs. Padres
Richard Morin, azcentral sports
Much has been made about Greinke’s catching arrangement this spring following the departure of Jeff Mathis, Greinke’s personal catcher for the last few years, this offseason. Early returns suggest the Diamondbacks could get creative in rotating catchers or even disrupting in-game batteries for pinch-hit opportunities when it comes to Greinke’s starts.
“I think you make adjustments based on the team you have and the personnel,” Lovullo said. “I felt comfortable with Caleb coming in the game with Zack as I would have if Carson (Kelly) was the other option. … I’ll probably follow that model to give us the best chance to score some runs.”
Greinke has said he is open to being flexible with his catchers if it means giving the offense a better chance at scoring runs.
“I’m sure there were some times last year where we thought about it,” Greinke said. “But (Sunday’s instance) was an important time there. I’m glad we did it and I’m glad it worked out.”