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'A long way to go'

Greinke battles depression in bid for K.C. rotation

Posted: Thursday March 15, 2007 1:05PM; Updated: Thursday March 15, 2007 1:33PM
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Zack Greinke pitched only 6 1/3 innings for the Royals in 2006 after going 5-17 in '05.
Zack Greinke pitched only 6 1/3 innings for the Royals in 2006 after going 5-17 in '05.
Leon Halip/WireImage.com
Raw Royals
Candidates for the Royals' rotation. The first three spots are considered locks; the rest are up for grabs.
Name Age Career Record
Gil Meche, RHP 28 55-44, 4.65 ERA
Odalis Perez, LHP 29 58-59, 4.33 ERA
Luke Hudson, RHP 29 17-17, 5.00 ERA
Brian Bannister, RHP 26 2-1, 4.26 ERA
Jorge De La Rosa, LHP 26 7-11, 5.88 ERA
Zack Greinke, RHP 23 14-28, 4.98 ERA
Joaquin Soria, RHP 22 Rookie
Todd Wellemeyer, RHP 28 6-7, 5.20
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Zack Greinke is still fighting for a place in the Royals' rotation. Nobody is about to let him forget that little face-smack of reality. Kansas City's former kid wunderpitcher is currently just one of about a thousand other guys in camp -- OK, so maybe it's just five or so -- trying to fill one or two spots at the back end of a fledgling starting staff.

The most important part of Greinke's situation is not what he faces, though, or what he's been through or where he's going to end up. It is this: Greinke is still fighting. That he is fighting and winning right now just happens to be a bonus for the young righty and the Royals.

"I thought that was the best I've seen him in a long time. It looked like he was in control of everything," Royals manager Buddy Bell said after Greinke shut down a traveling Rockies' team Wednesday in a four-inning stint in Surprise. "That's kind of the way he threw when I first saw him."

Greinke's tortured story is, on the one end, a sad one, but on this side there is hope that it may yet turn out well. Rushed to the big leagues with a whole lot of fanfare and some modest success as a 20-year-old rookie in 2004, Greinke was at one time the Royals' future. He was to be the cornerstone of the franchise's rebuilding plan, the proverbial ace in the hole.

But behind all the promise, Greinke was being crushed by a nearly debilitating case of depression and constant bouts of social anxiety, illnesses that had plagued him for much of his life. Even during his short stint in the minors, he struggled with his depression, entertaining thoughts of quitting a game he had grown to despise. He pitched on, though, and in 2005 he lost 17 games, deepening his depression and hatred of the game.

Last February, during a wild throwing session with catcher John Buck at the team's spring training complex here on the outskirts of Phoenix, he broke down completely. Afterward, he unburdened himself to Bell and the team's general manager at the time, Allard Baird, then missed almost the entire season as he sought psychological help.

Now back, the blonde, buzz-cut, boyish-looking Greinke is determined to give this his best. Wednesday, in his four tidy innings against the Rockies, he struck out six batters, didn't walk anyone and gave up only four hits. He spotted his fastball, clocked in the low 90s, well. His killer curve seemed to be working. He used a slider to strike out at least one Colorado batter, after repeatedly shaking off Buck. And Greinke has unleashed a newer, harder curve that shows great potential.

Afterward, he pronounced himself happy about the outing and where it might lead.

"I felt really good about it, like things were coming back. Not just to where I pitched last year, but where I pitched a while ago," said Greinke, who now takes antidepressants for his illness. "The feel of just reading the batters and knowing what pitches to throw, and where to throw them and what's a good pitch, or not.

"I still have a long way to go. But it was just a good feeling ... that I feel like I know what to do."

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