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'A long way to go' (cont.)

Posted: Thursday March 15, 2007 1:05PM; Updated: Thursday March 15, 2007 1:33PM
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Once touted as a future ace, Zack Greinke grew to despise the game and nearly quit playing.
Once touted as a future ace, Zack Greinke grew to despise the game and nearly quit playing.
AP
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This was not an ordinary spring training outing for Greinke. With just a couple of weeks left before the start of the season, it's getting to the time that someone in K.C.'s ridiculously young group of starters [see chart] begins to separate from the pack. Greinke, especially, needed to show Bell and others that he could handle the pressures of being a starting pitcher in the majors. "It's kind of a defining point," general manager Dayton Moore said before the game.

Greinke had pitched well in his previous spring starts, but he knew that he had not pitched well enough to remove all the doubts. Greinke took the mound Wednesday needing to show that he could get through four innings without blowing up, without walking batters, without losing his focus from pitch-to-pitch.

He wasn't perfect on a cloudless afternoon in the Valley of the Sun. He hung a couple of curves. He gave up two well-struck doubles. He and Buck seemed to differ on pitch selection on several occasions. A couple of fastballs sailed dangerously high into the strike zone.

But he didn't allow any runs, and he was in control the entire time. Buck raved after the game about his friend's every-pitch concentration.

"I don't treat him any differently, baby him or anything, because of what he's been through. If anything, he's the type of pitcher that likes you to straight-shoot him. He doesn't want any excuses," Buck said. "He's a good dude, well-liked in the clubhouse. As much time as we spend together, we're all friends first, so you can't help but pull for a friend."

As good as Greinke might be, it is clear that, at least for now, his days as an ace are over. He prefers the anonymity of the bottom of the rotation to the pressures of being the stud of the staff. In fact, Greinke -- soft-spoken, somewhat withdrawn but polite and accommodating in a talk after the game -- said he might like to pitch out of the bullpen, an idea that he had a couple of years ago when he hated the game and believed pitching more often might make him hate it less.

That remains a possibility if another potential starter suddenly begins to tear things up. Moore would say only that putting Greinke in long relief might be something the club considers.

"I don't want to be a starter if there's someone better than me that can start. I don't even want to be a reliever if they think that there's someone better than me to relieve," Greinke said. "I just want to help the team win."

Before he gets that chance, Greinke still has plenty to do. He's scheduled to go maybe five or six innings next time out, throwing between 65-75 pitches. If he gets through that, there'll be another spring start, and then a final one. If he makes it through those, a long, arduous season begins.

For Greinke, there's always another game to pitch. Always another fight to fight.

"Yeah," Greinke said. "That's the way it is."

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