Aced out: Greinke sharper than Wainwright

April 7, 2012

MILWAUKEE — Two starting pitchers straddled the rubber Saturday at Miller Park, out to prove their worth for very different reasons.

On one side, there was Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner who, with one more fantastic season, will be paid Cy Young Award money when his contract expires.

On the other side stood St. Louis righty Adam Wainwright, a former Cy Young Award runner-up who simply wanted to see if he still possessed the stuff that made him spectacular before missing all of last season with an elbow injury.

Both men gave their respective ballclubs hope for a productive season. But only Greinke walked away the winner, out-dueling Wainwright during Milwaukee's 6-0 victory over St. Louis.

Greinke tossed seven shutout innings in his first start of the season and surrendered four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. Wainwright — who pitched well but ran out of steam in the sixth — lasted 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on four hits with six strikeouts and one walk.

Greinke's performance was a welcomed sight for the Brewers after he struggled through the early part of last season. Greinke missed all of last April with a rib injury, and when he returned, his pitches weren't particularly sharp. In 28 starts, Greinke gave up zero earned runs just twice, and he never accomplished the feat when pitching seven innings.

"It felt good," Greinke said. "I don't remember throwing many games like that. I threw a lot that I felt good, but I ended up finding a way to let up at least one run. So I was happy to keep them where they were. It seemed like I'd always find a way to give up a run, so that was nice."

Greinke ended his day by buckling the knees of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina with a nasty slow curveball that registered at 65 mph on the scoreboard radar. Molina struck out looking to close the top of the seventh, and Greinke's day was done after 91 pitches.

It was exactly the kind of bounce-back outing the Brewers needed from their second ace after Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo rolled out a stinker in an 11-5 loss Friday. Gallardo surrendered four home runs and blew an early Milwaukee lead.

When Greinke grabbed his lead Saturday, he did not make the same mistake.

Greinke is in the final season of a four-year, $38 million contract that he signed in 2009 with Kansas City before he won the Cy Young Award that season. More outings like the one he produced on Saturday will go a long way toward Milwaukee ponying up for a big money deal.

"That's as good as it gets," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "That's what we saw in spring training, which is tremendous velocity and life on the velocity. … If he does this for us all this year, he's going to have some kind of year."

While Greinke sparkled, Wainwright showed signs of the pitcher he was before undergoing Tommy John surgery to replace a ligament in his right elbow. His last regular-season start was Sept. 24, 2010 — 563 days ago.

In 2009 and 2010, Wainwright was as dominant as any pitcher in baseball. He finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2009 and second in 2010. During that span, he went a combined 39-19 for the Cardinals and averaged just over 230 innings pitched.

On Saturday, Wainwright allowed just one run through five innings before he began to tire in the sixth.

"For his first outing in a few years, it was actually pretty impressive," said Brewers right fielder Corey Hart, who hit two home runs, one coming off Wainwright. "He commanded and he did what he wanted to do. His velocity is going to go up, but even where he was at, he was still effective."

Before Saturday's game, Roenicke expressed uncertainty as to how Wainwright would respond in his season opener. By the end, he had his answer.

"It's incredible that a guy can pitch at a lower velocity and still do whatever he wants to do," Roenicke said. "He's really impressive.

"This is a true, legitimate No. 1 starter."

The same can certainly be said for Greinke.

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