The most interesting person in baseball strikes again.
Yesterday’s game against the Tigers, which served as former manager A.J. Hinch’s homecoming of sorts at Minute Maid Park, didn’t go according to plan for the Astros. Much like the past 18 months, to be honest. Not only did Zack Greinke get tossed around for six runs in 4 2⁄3 innings, the lineup that lit up the A’s and Angels during the season’s first week has entered a slumber. But there 152 games remaining on the schedule, so now isn’t the time to panic.
The cool thing about the game of baseball, however, is the ability to appreciate a singular moment for what it truly is, regardless of the ultimate outcome. After all, it is exceedingly rare to see a club lose less than 50 games in a given season. Even in a loss I do try to find something amusing from at least one pitch, at-bat, or sequence of events in any given game. Alas, that goal is much easier to accomplish with games in early April versus a Game 7 in October. But such an event occurred last night with Greinke on the mound in the top of the fifth with two men on base and no outs.
Already at 84 pitches facing Renato Núñez with a 4-0 deficit, Greinke was arguably not going to last much longer. The question was if he could survive the fifth inning without further damage to keep the Astros within striking distance. Whether it was frustration or wanting to try something different in attempt to reverse his fortunes, the veteran starter decided to lob an eephus — or slow curve as noted by Statcast — to Núñez coming in at just 51.5 MPH for a called strike. In other words, the slowest pitch Greinke has ever thrown in the pitch tracking era.
Yes, you read that right. The slowest, non-intentional ball of Greinke’s career dating back to the 2008 season, which was the season when pitch tracking started. That is simply not an offering that you’d see often, even for someone who isn’t afraid to try something different like Greinke. Prior to last night, we’ve only seen Greinke throw one pitch below 61.5 MPH for a called strike just last August. That 61.5 MPH offering I mentioned dates back to the 2011 season, which now feels like a lifetime ago.
As it pertains to the at-bat in question, you can tell Greinke and his catcher, Martín Maldonado, weren’t entirely on the same page following that eephus/slow curve/whatever you’d like to call it. That offering wasn’t part of the plan and it was probably a byproduct of Greinke’s frustrations on the mound last night. Hey, I don’t blame him as he wasn’t sharp and it was clear from the start of the game.
You also have to love Núñez just staring at the pitch as it innocently crossed the plate. Like, did that really happen? Opposing hitters since 2008 have posted a eight hits in 36 at-bats with a .333 slugging percentage on non-intentional ball pitches thrown 52 MPH or slower, so I wouldn’t feel too bad if I were him. For hitters who make a living based on how they fast they can react and swing a bat at 95 MPH-plus offerings, I can understand why they aren’t looking for a barely above 50 MPH slow curve to gently drop in at the top of the zone. Sometimes the unexpected offering under certain circumstances is just as effective as a 100 MPH fastball.
It is only April, so I doubt we haven’t seen the last of Greinke trying something different. I, for one, hope he provides more singular events for us to appreciate. It makes the losses more bearable, if not a bit fun, as a fan.