Brewers' new ace Zack Greinke welcomes fresh start
He’s expecting a lot more things to go well on the field, too. He’s with a new team for the first time in his career after being traded by the Kansas City Royals, and he thinks the Milwaukee Brewers can win a lot more games this year and next.
“It’s more fun to win games. Not saying we’re guaranteed to win every game we play, just it’ll be a better chance and more than likely we’ll win more games than I’ve won in any of my seasons prior, so it should be a fun season,” he said Tuesday.
Greinke, who talked to reporters for nearly 40 minutes in his first comments since reporting to spring training, always wanted to wear No. 13.
First, it went to the biggest kid in Little League because that was one of the highest numbers and put on the extra large jerseys. Then in high school, the team’s uniforms started at 21 and he settled on No. 23, which he wore throughout his time in Kansas City. Second baseman Rickie Weeks wore No. 23 in Milwaukee so Greinke couldn’t take it.
In truth, Greinke might as well be No. 1.
The 27-year-old former AL Cy Young winner, who must manage social anxiety disorder, was Milwaukee’s biggest offseason acquisition. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin traded starting shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and prospects Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi for Greinke in a December deal that also included shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash.
The move, coupled with an earlier trade with Toronto for starter Shaun Marcum, has injected added optimism that Milwaukee can return to the postseason for the first time since an appearance in 2008 ended a 26-year drought.
“Doug Melvin and I set that as the No. 1 priority, the No. 2 priority and the No. 3 priority,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said.
Greinke was originally drafted by the Royals and spent seven years there, but Kansas City never came close to a winning record. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2009 by going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA on a team that finished 75-87.
Last year, his numbers fell to 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA, but he said he didn’t work quite as hard on his days off toward the end of the season.
“When the games started, I pitched 100 percent every time, but going in, I probably did what most people do. Usually, I feel like I do a lot more than most people in between starts and the second half I felt like I kind of did what was asked and nothing more,” Greinke said.
While the Royals have one of the deepest farm systems in the majors even before their most recent set of moves, Greinke couldn’t wait any longer and confirmed he’d asked for a trade four different times last year.
“The organization was really good to me, the fans have always been amazing, but it just seemed like we were going in different directions,” he said. “Like I said before, I know young guys are very, very valuable, but there comes a point where it has to take the next step.”
Greinke’s next step will be in Milwaukee, where he’ll anchor a rotation but not bear the spotlight. He says the team’s potential reminds him of what the Rangers were able to do last year.
“The offense is amazing in Texas, but you can’t really do much without pitching and that’s kind of what it’s like in Milwaukee,” he said. “We brought over two really good pitchers and there’s two really good pitchers already over here. We have four legit starting rotation guys and a good offense that should be pretty special.”
Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf are the team’s top four pitchers, and Chris Narveson, a 12-game winner, is expected to be the fifth starter.
Greinke said that he’s reclusive at times with fans, the media and sometimes his teammates because he feels like he needs to stay focused on pitching and that it could be a coping mechanism for his anxiety.
“Baseball in my opinion would be a lot better if you make the same salary as everyone else in the world and you don’t deal with any of the other stuff. But that’s not how it is,” he said. “The main thing is I want to pitch against the best players in the world, and you can’t do that by playing in the pickup baseball league in your town.”
Greinke walked away from the game in 2006 because of the struggle with social anxiety disorder, and said Tuesday he gave himself only a 10 percent chance of returning to the field. He came back two months later and has adjusted his medication on multiple occasions, including this offseason.
Greinke will make $27 million in the final two years of his contract, which also allowed him a limited no-trade clause provision. He spent time in his final days in Kansas City trying to decide whether he’d accept a deal to a big market with even bigger spotlights.
He came to a blunt conclusion.
“I really don’t think it matters too much,” he said. “There’s more people to ignore in New York or Boston than there is in Milwaukee, but I’d still ignore them.”