Something has been wrong with Zack Greinke this spring, and now we know what.
He's made two Cactus League starts and left people wondering whether he was fully engaged.
"I saw Greinke the other day," a befuddled veteran scout was just telling me on Monday. "His fastball was 86, 87. Something's going on. He doesn't look right."
Bingo. Now we know. Pitching with one rib fractured and another bruised is a recipe for disaster, even for a guy who won a Cy Young award as recently as 2009.
Now the question becomes, how big of a disaster will this be for the Milwaukee Brewers?
Suddenly, the only team in the majors employing three pitchers who started on opening day in 2010 is down the ace who should have started opening day in 2011.
Greinke has a hairline fracture of the seventh rib on the left side (and a bruised eighth rib), an injury that normally carries a four-to-six week recovery time. The thinking is that he suffered the injury a couple of weeks ago, so perhaps his recovery, from here, will be on the shorter side.
Maybe. Rib injuries are tricky, and the torque with which power pitchers punish their upper bodies is not for the weak. If Greinke only misses two or three starts, as the Brewers are hoping right now, you can mark it down as a large victory for both him and them.
Right now, that looks wildly optimistic. Because simple math adds up to more than a couple of missed starts. Because he will not be pitching while his ribs heal, he will need time on the mound to build his arm back up when they're healed. That will tack on extra time. Realistically, he'll probably miss at least the first month of the season.
This is highly problematical. This is a team with a finite window of opportunity that made the gutsy decision to swing for the fences in 2011. Prince Fielder is a free agent at the end of the year, and with Scott Boras as his agent, he's all but gone.
Armchair general managers were sure the Brewers should have traded Fielder over the winter to ensure that they got something in return.
Instead, they went out and acquired Greinke from Kansas City ... after they acquired starter Shaun Marcum from Toronto.
With those two, Yovani Gallardo and others backed by an offense that ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored per game last season, the Brewers are set to enter the season as strong contenders in the NL Central.
But now, the Brewers grip on 2011 is far more fragile.
Sometimes with off days in the early-season schedule, clubs can get by with a four-man rotation for much of April. But the Brewers, given their schedule, need their fifth starter to make at least three starts in the season's first three weeks.
The only silver lining in this is that by missing some starts early, Greinke theoretically could be a bit stronger in September (and, the Brewers hope, in October) than he would have been otherwise.
But make no mistake. This is a serious blow to the Brewers.
No wonder Greinke had surrendered six hits and three walks -- against only three strikeouts -- in 3 1/3 innings this spring.