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PLAYER TO WATCH
People tend to remember the start that AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke had last season: 8--1 with an 0.84 ERA and not a single home run allowed through his first 10 appearances. He was a sensation.
It's the end, though, that sticks with Greinke. The numbers over his last eight starts were nearly as impressive—a team-record 15 strikeouts against the Indians on Aug. 25, a one-hit shutout against the Mariners his next time out and a 5--0 finish with a 1.29 ERA—but what excited Greinke was how his changeup emerged.
He had been working on the pitch for a long time and had not felt good about it. His brilliant start had been built around the rest of his embarrassment-of-riches repertoire—a mid-90s fastball he can spot anywhere, a devastating slider and a slow curveball that usually drops below 70 mph. "I don't really know why," Greinke says, "but late in the year, suddenly, my changeup was really good. It was moving. Guys were missing it."
That changeup gives Greinke and the Royals hope that, as improbable as it seems, he can improve on a 2009 performance that was not only the bright spot of a dismal Kansas City season but also was the bright highlight of a dismal decade. The Royals lost more games from 2000 through '09 than any other team in the majors. This season isn't expected to be much better for K.C., but every five days Greinke will make the team worth watching.
Percent of first pitches Royals relievers threw for strikes last season, the lowest in the AL. All those 1-and-0 counts led to disaster. Even with standout closer Joakim Soria, K.C. had the league's worst bullpen ERA (5.02) and highest walk rate (4.6 per nine innings).