Dodgers hope Greinke is game changer in NL West
Prized offseason acquisition set to debut against Pirates at Dodger Stadium
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers signed starter Zack Greinke in the offseason with one ultimate goal in mind: bolster their rotation and win the World Series in 2013.
After watching the rival Giants win two of the last three World Series titles behind strong pitching and defense, the Dodgers chose to upgrade their rotation and inked the former Cy Young Award winner to a six-year, $147 million contract in December.
"When somebody is winning, everybody else is trying to knock them off," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.
Greinke will make his Dodgers debut Friday against the Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
While Greinke was the most coveted free agent pitcher in the offseason, he comes to Los Angeles with some unknowns. He experienced elbow soreness during Spring Training, which caused the Dodgers to shut him down for a few weeks in early March.
Greinke returned at the end of the month for two outings and said his right elbow was feeling better. But he remains unsure of how the elbow will respond to pitching every fifth day.
"I still don't know how it's going to react," said Greinke, who hasn't dealt with arm issues in nine previous big league seasons. "It should be fine. But I guess it could happen again. I don't know. I can't predict the future. I guess that's the best way to say it."
If Greinke remains healthy this season, he's sure to be a welcome addition to the Dodgers. He's had an ERA under 4.00 in five of the last six seasons dating back to 2007. Greinke struck out at least 200 in three of the last four years since '09, when he won the American League Cy Young Award with Kansas City.
Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt pitched alongside Greinke for almost three full seasons with the Royals from 2004-06. Affeldt knows what Greinke brings to the table, and said his former teammate adds a different style of pitching to the Dodgers' rotation.
"I don't think there are guys on that staff that throw like him," Affeldt said. "He's pretty methodical with the way he goes about his business and what he does on the mound. I think he brings just a style of pitching that there are not a lot of guys that can add and subtract with their heater like he does. I think they just wanted to add another ace, and they had the money to do it and that's what they did."
In their opening series against the Giants, the Dodgers saw first hand what a talented rotation can do for a club. San Francisco shut out Los Angeles on Tuesday, 3-0. On Wednesday, the Dodgers were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position in a 5-3 defeat.
So it's no surprise the Dodgers placed a premium on pitching in 2013. The organization is following San Francisco's blueprint for success, and Greinke's addition is the perfect example.
"With them winning two out of three it kind of raises the stakes for us," Mattingly said of chasing the Giants. "The kind of team we're putting together raises the stakes for them and everybody else also. The National League West is really a division that's going to be a battleground."
The Giants aren't bothered that the Dodgers are trying to emulate them in a sense. In fact, San Francisco takes it as a compliment.
"It's the norm in any sport," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You look at a team that's had some success and you look at why. So we have to take that as a compliment. We kind of transformed from my first game here to where we're at now with more pitching and defense and it's worked."
But does Greinke alone change the balance of power in the NL West?
"Good pitching is going to beat good hitting anyway, but I don't think we're scared of him," Affeldt said. "We have to be focused on every time we play these guys, they're going to bring competitive pitching to the table, and I think this team in San Francisco understands what competitive pitching can do for you. I think every body is trying to follow that example of good pitching, and they did."
Health concerns aside, Greinke has a good chance of making a strong first impression on Dodgers fans Friday night. In six career starts against the Pirates, he's 4-1 with 31 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.