Greinke takes another small step toward Opening Day readiness

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The D-backs started Spring Training saying they were going to “slow play” ace Zack Greinke during the elongated spring and according to Greinke that’s how it’s played out.

Greinke took an incremental step forward in his preparation toward Opening Day in an exhibition game against World Baseball Classic semifinalist Netherlands on Saturday.

Against a lineup featuring five starters from American League teams, Greinke gave up one run on six hits in five innings in a 12-5 D-backs victory. He struck out two in throwing 70 pitches.

“It was a little bit better than last start,” Greinke said. “It would be nice to have a big jump to where it was a lot better. But each start has been a little better so far.”

With two weeks until the D-backs begin the season against the Giants, Greinke isn’t worried about his progress but isn’t overly thrilled either.

“I’d like for it to be better. For sure,” he said. “But I guess solid. All the pitches could be crisper. Location could be a little better. I feel pretty good out there, for the most part. But not quite where I want it to be.”

Velocity was the topic du jour after Greinke’s last start against D-backs’ Minor Leaguers in an intrasquad game. He sat between 87 mph and 92 mph with his fastball.

“If it were a different time of year, I’d probably be a little more concerned,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “I’d worry about fatigue. I still think he’s climbing on the up elevator. He knows what he needs to get to where he wants to be on April 2. So the velocity at this point is not a huge concern of mine.”

Catcher Chris Iannetta, who caught Greinke on Saturday as well for half a season when the two overlapped with the Angles in 2012, said the right-hander is right where he needs to be with what figures to be two more Cactus League appearances this month.

“He’s right on track,” Iannetta said. “It’s a process. You want to work your way into it. He’s done it so long he knows what that process is.

“He’s not vying for a roster spot or to make the team. He’s getting ready for Opening Day and to be the best pitcher he can be. We all want to go there and be in mid-season form in the middle of a hit streak. That’s just being a competitor. I wouldn’t read too much into it.”

While facing a lineup that included the Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts, Rangers’ Jurickson Profar, Yankees’ Didi Gregorius, Angels’ Andrelton Simmons and Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop didn’t give Greinke any extra motivation — “less actually,” he said — he took away a positive from the results compared to his last start.

“Overall it was equally good result-wise, but it was a lot tougher of a competition by a long shot,” Greinke said. “Not just because of the Major League players but because the Minor League guys (weren’t) 20 games in; they were three or four games in, so they weren’t used to seeing breaking balls and their timing was off. Today, the at-bats were of higher quality.”