Greinke ahead of schedule, but his return can't come soon enough for Dodgers
When Zack Greinke suffered a broken left collarbone in his April 11 brawl with Carlos Quentin, the initial prognosis was that he'd miss eight weeks, because he needed surgery to implant a metal rod to stabilize the bone. Fortunately for the Dodgers, he appears likely to beat that timetable by two or three weeks, as he's slated to make a rehab start for the team's High-A Rancho Cucamonga team on Friday night.
It's not a given that Greinke's next start after this will be in Dodger blue. While he says his arm strength is "pretty good," his ability to field his position and swing the bat may limit him. Signed to a six-year, $147 million contract this winter, he's made just two regular season starts for his new team. He threw 6 1/3 innings of two-hit shutout ball against the Pirates in his debut on April 5, and had allowed just one run to the Padres in five innings before Quentin took issue with being hit by a 3-2 pitch and charged the mound. Greinke braced himself by turning his non-throwing side towards Quentin, whose 40-pound weight advantage prevailed when he body-checked the pitcher. Greinke and Quentin were both ejected, and the latter's pinch-runner came around to score the tying run, though the Dodgers prevailed 3-2.
Alas, they've had few victories since then — seven to be exact — and have lost seven straight games to fall into last place in the NL West at 13-20. Injuries have been a huge part of the problem for the team, which isn't even healthy enough to be called the walking wounded. No less than nine Dodgers are on the disabled list, including two of the other seven starting pitchers the team spent the spring figuring out how to squeeze into its rotation in Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley; the latter is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Their two starters in the middle infield, Mark Ellis and Hanley Ramirez, are both down; the former sat for nine days with a groin strain before being placed on the DL retroactively, while the latter played in just four games after coming back from a thumb injury before returning to the DL with a hamstring strain.
At times their lineup appears to consist of the middle infield waiver pool from an NL-only fantasy league. Last Saturday, Jerry Hairston got his first professional start at first base, with Skip Schumaker at second, Juan Uribe at third and the freshly recalled Dee Gordon at shortstop. Of course, it was too good to last; Hairston left mid-game bound for the DL with a groin strain, that after needing stitches to close a gash on his forehead from a nighttime mishap in his hotel room. The next night, Uribe made the first start of his professional career at first base as well, with Nick Punto at second and Luis Cruz at third along with Gordon.
The body count doesn't even include Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, both of whom are day-to-day with injuries that have limited them to four starts apiece during this slide; Gonzalez is dealing with neck and upper back stiffness after colliding with an umpire, while Crawford is battling hamstring tightness. Nor does the count include Matt Kemp, whose power has yet to return in the wake of offseason shoulder surgery.
While their offense ranks second to last in the league at a meager 3.36 runs per game — that despite a .330 on-base percentage, the league's second-best mark — the Dodgers' starting pitching has been their strongest unit, which is to say that it's at least been middle-of-the pack. The starters collectively rank ninth in the league with a 3.94 ERA, and eighth with a 55 percent quality start rate, but they're tops in strikeout rate at 8.6 per nine. That's thanks mostly to Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, both of whom are striking out at least a batter per inning; the duo have made 11 quality starts out of 15, while the rest of the staff has just seven in their other 18 games. With minor leaguers Stephen Fife and Matt Magill both filling in for injured pitchers, the Dodgers have used an MLB-high nine starters and an NL-high 19 pitchers thus far. The less said about their overtaxed bullpen, which ranks second-to-last in the league with a 4.71 ERA, the better, except to say that Ned Colletti's re-signing of Brandon League to a three-year deal isn't looking too sharp.
The Dodgers have been so lousy that they've fallen behind the Padres, who lost 15 of their first 20 games but have won 11 of 14 since. Amid their current four-game winning streak, they climbed out of last place earlier this week.
Quentin hasn't been much help, however. Suspended for eight games following the brawl with Greinke, he's just 7-for-42 since, and 0-for-19 in May. The 30-year-old left fielder is batting just .169/.291/.338 overall with two home runs and just four singles in 79 plate appearances, not to mention a .184 batting average on balls in play. Those woes may owe something to a right knee that required meniscus surgery last year, and which continues to act up. He's been scratched from the lineup a couple of times recently and has yielded to a defensive replacement in nine of his 11 starts since returning, though his notoriously lousy glovework may have something to do with that as well. Quentin has been hit by a pitch twice since the Greinke incident, and has yet to charge the mound again; reportedly, he did speak to Greinke during his suspension and had what he described as "a good productive conversation." If he could have some good, productive plate appearances, the Padres might continue to distance themselves from the Dodgers.