Brewers media relations man Mike Vassallo rocked Milwaukee on Monday with a bombshell announcement: Zack Greinke, who was supposed to start today's finale against the Cardinals, would be scratched, and Tyler Thornburg would take his place.
Needless to say, it was pandemonium after that. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Is Greinke hurt? Was he being traded? I even speculated that an extension might be in the works. It was a fun few hours, but by the end of the night, the Brewers would leave fans with more questions than answers.
At some point after Vassallo's cryptic tweet (and his subsequent tweets mentioning, for example, some inane trivia about strikeout totals and home records) the front office must have decided to get out in front of this thing. Doug Melvin spoke with Ken Rosenthal, assuring him there was "nothing physically wrong with Greinke," who was just "recharging his batteries." Ron Roenicke started texting Tom Haudricourt to say Greinke just needed "to get back in his routine."
At his pregame presser, Roenicke's answers were downright baffling. After disclosing that Greinke wouldn't pitch in the Cincinnati series either (meaning he would skip 10 days and an entire turn), Roenicke was asked if there was a physical problem:
"Other than not feeling right and a little fatigue, no. I can't say no soreness because a pitcher always has soreness the day after, always. But not to where it would be a concern. It was just not feeling right; out of whack."
Oh. So if you don't have concerns about him physically, what about his mental state:
"He said the mental part is not an issue. He doesn't feel like it was too much of a strain on him. It's more the physical part. We put a lot on him, asking him to [pitch three consecutive games]. I thought he'd be able to do it and he didn't."
Uhhhh, alright. So I guess it is a physical issue then. Except Greinke, interviewed later, said it wasn't. Otherwise, it appears even Greinke wasn't sure what he was supposed to say:
"I'm just going with whatever [Roenicke] said. I don't know why you've got to ask me. I say the same exact words that came out of his mouth, came out of mine."
This gave Tom Haudricourt the impression that Greinke was not on board with the move.
The story the Brewers are offering: Greinke just doesn't feel right. Greinke started in Houston on July 7, but was ejected after four pitches for spiking a ball in the dirt after failing to cover first base (not for protesting pitch calls; I'm looking at you, St. Louis). He started the following day, but lasted only three innings, and his next start was the first game back from the All-Star break. The Brewers like to sell this as pitching in three consecutive games, but he really didn't; Greinke tossed on his regular four days' rest when the schedule resumed.
So, after repeatedly hyping the three series against the Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds as some sort of "do-or-die" nine-game stretch, the Brewers have suddenly decided to bench their ace. Not give him an extra day of rest, not evaluate him after a bullpen to see how he feels, but sit him entirely during the most crucial time of the season and just before the trade deadline. I guess the way you get a guy back on schedule is to get him off schedule. We have always been at war with Eastasia.
The move obviously has two immediate effects. First, it greatly diminishes the chance that the Brewers will emerge from the current stretch of games with the kind of record they need to remain in contention. Greinke was only slated to start one of the remaining games, but the team basically needs to go 4-0 the rest of the way to seriously consider pressing on. You're clearly better off with Greinke there than Thornburg in just his second major league start. Second, it greatly diminishes Greinke's trade value. No one likes broken (or potentially broken) goods, and Greinke is fragile enough to begin with.
With this much at stake, it was probably the worst time imaginable to "recharge" Greinke, and to do so by skipping an entire start. In fact, it seems downright foolish, unless there's actually something going on that we haven't yet learned; an injury, for example, or a pending trade. That, though, would mean all the talk about Grienke needing new batteries is complete fiction.
Those are the only two options I can come up with. The team's explanation for benching Greinke is either stupid or false. Neither option instills a whole lot of confidence going forward.