BOSTON -- Zack Greinke can be playful, bored, funny or insulting, all in the same sentence. When told the Wall Street Journal declared his slider to be the second most difficult pitch to hit in the major leagues behind the slider of the Oakland A's Michael Wuertz, Greinke barely moved his lips to answer.
"Who's Michael Wuertz?" he said.
|Zack Greinke's 2.12 ERA is tops among AL starters heading into the break. (US Presswire)|
Greinke will represent the Kansas City Royals in the All-Star Game on Tuesday. With the American League's best ERA (2.12) and third most innings pitched (127 1/3), the majors' most complete games (five), two shutouts and a 10-5 record, he's having a terrific season. He's also very unusual.
The story is well known. The high school phenom from Florida was being hailed as a 20-year-old genius, a prodigy with the Royals in his rookie year. Over the next five years, he was a starter, a reliever and a bust. Diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, he even left the game in 2005. But now he's one of the top pitchers in baseball.
"It took me a while to get the hang of him," manager Trey Hillman said. "Early in the season, Zack said to me, 'I really don't need to talk to you every day.' I was surprised but I thought, OK, I'll try every three days and see how it goes."
It has gone extremely well. And Hillman will be in St. Louis for the game. AL manager Joe Maddon was impressed with the way the Hillman has gone about trying to rebuild a once proud franchise and offered Hillman one of the coaching positions.
"I hope it falls on the day I talk to Zack," Hillman laughed. Actually, the day falls perfectly for Greinke, on what would be his natural turn in the rotation. It means Greinke would likely face the most complete player in baseball, Albert Pujols, in his home park.
"He is the only player in the major leagues I don't want to pitch to," Greinke said. "I might walk him."
Greinke is either unintentionally hilarious or knows he can come off like a mad hatter.
"I didn't always love to pitch, I was just good at it," he said. "I messed around with all kinds of nonsense, like that 50-mile-an-hour curve I threw four years ago. But I like pitching now, I know what I'm doing and I enjoy it."
So how would he do against his slider?
"That's a question that interests me," he said. "I could hit me if someone were on base. It wouldn't be easy, but I could do it. If no one were on base, I wouldn't care as much, so I could get me out."
I think he's a blast.
In the Red Sox clubhouse, where six of the players will join Greinke on the AL All-Star roster, some of the players have experienced Greinke's work and some have not.
"I faced him a couple of years ago," Rocco Baldelli said. "He looked like a skinny high school kid and then he let it go. I was shocked. I can tell you that even then, no one wanted to face him."
Mark Kotsay had a similar sentiment.
Shortstop Nick Green spoke for a few of the Red Sox.
"I'm just glad I never faced him," Green said.
Greinke said he has never met Dustin Pedroia and only knows Jason Bay slightly, but that he will enjoy being on the same team as Tim Wakefield since he tried the knuckleball one season. He also can't wait for the crowds in St. Louis.
"Some parks are great because of the fans," he said. "Here in Fenway, in New York and in St. Louis. You know they're knowledgeable and you know they care."
Greinke would also like a chance to get up at the plate.
"I've hit a home run," he said. "It was strange. As I was rounding the bases, I was saying to myself, 'No way someone like me should be hitting a home run -- especially with an ERA of 6.00!'"
Conversation with Greinke is slightly unconventional. He doesn't like to do interviews, but if the topic interests him, he will enjoy a verbal volley. The 80th All-Star Game will be filled with gold-standard names like Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Tim Lincecum. But no one will have better stuff than Zack Greinke.