It would be easy to worry about Zack Greinke‘s start against the Pirates, but outings like this will happen when he’s still working his way back to full strength. There was some talk in the postgame press conferences that Greinke was possibly tipping his pitches in the 5th inning, but the explanation for his struggles in the 5th inning could be much simpler — the guy just got tired.
Rick Kranitz was quoted as saying the shackles were finally off for Greinke today, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his arm is back to full strength. While the Brewers were saying he was strong enough to go 100 pitches, high-stress innings like the ones he saw today in the 5th (and to a lesser extent, the 4th after allowing his first baserunner) are still going to give Greinke problems and cause him to tire quicker than he normally would.
Just as an example: Greinke hit as high as 93.7 mph on his fastball on Sunday. During Neil Walker‘s 12-pitch at-bat that was the turning point in Greinke’s start, he was down nearly 2 mph, hitting a max speed of 91.9. By the time he struck out Garrett Jones to finally get out of the inning, he was only hitting 90.5. On top of the declining velocity, he seemed to have trouble locating anything that wasn’t a fastball for strikes, and anything that was close was fouled off. That kind of fatigue will happen when you throw 47 pitches in a single inning. Throwing half that many is considered a little on the long side — throwing nearly 50 seems impossible.
Perhaps someone can help me out, but I’m having a hard time remembering the last time a Brewers pitcher had to labor through an inning like Greinke went through on Sunday. Brooks Baseball had him at 47 pitches for that inning alone after throwing just 49 through the previous four innings, and 28 through the first three. The closest I can come up with is LaTroy Hawkins‘ torturous 39-pitch 8th inning against the Cubs last season. As a reliever, Hawkins was never really the same after that, and went on the shelf with shoulder issues less than a month later.
Don’t let that worry you when it comes to Greinke, though — as a starter, he’ll have an easier time recovering from an outing like today’s (not to mention he won’t be thrown back on the mound for 20 more pitches after just one day off like Hawkins was). It’s a shame that Greinke went through an inning like this, though, because up to that point he was putting together what looked to be a special start.