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05/14/08 12:50 AM ET

Greinke saves best, nastiest for last

Royals' 'No. 1 pitcher' makes adjustments late, with heat to spare

KANSAS CITY -- The first time through the lineup, that's when Zack Greinke struggles. He says he finds the groove later.

And when he does, Greinke is usually good to go. He proved that again on Tuesday night in the Royals' 3-2 victory against the Tigers. Greinke gave up two runs in the first three innings and then didn't allow any more. He lasted until the sixth and saved his best for a bases-loaded stop in that inning.

"I knew going in it was probably my last inning," Greinke said, "so there was no need to save anything back."

After getting an out, Greinke walked Miguel Cabrera in the sixth. He gave up a single to Matt Joyce after getting another out. Then Greinke got some help from Mark Grudzielanek.

Edgar Renteria lined a hit between second and short. Grudzielanek dove to block it and prevent it from getting into outfield. Renteria was safe, but Grudzielanek saved a run.

"It's got to help some other guys," Greinke said. "Seeing someone as old as he is and playing as long as he has, playing as hard as he is."

Grudzielanek's stop helped, but more trouble came to the plate in the form of Ivan Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been hitting .381 in 21 at-bats against Greinke coming into the game and had singled off Greinke in the second. The bases were loaded. Pitching coach Bob McClure came out to talk with Greinke. Greinke later told manager Trey Hillman how much that helped settle him down.

His composure showed. The inning ended with three pitches to Ivan Rodriguez -- all strikes. He struck out swinging on the last one.

"I thought that it was going to decide the game," Greinke said, "and threw all three of them as hard as I could."

They read 95, 94, 94 on the radar gun. They were Greinke's 98th, 99th and 100th pitches of the night. Hillman pulled him after the strikeout.

Greinke credits bullpen sessions for giving him the power to maintain his speed late in games. In those sessions, he often throws as hard as he can to practice for those situations. Because of them, he feels more comfortable with runners on base. His greatest fear in scenarios such as he saw in the sixth is now just throwing the ball too hard.

"After the first one," Greinke said about the Rodriguez at-bat, "I was thinking that I've got to control myself so I don't spike one in the ground or throw one straight into the backstop."

Greinke's ERA actually rose from 1.80 to 1.93 because of the two early runs he gave up. He remains 4-1 for the season after the no-decision, and has been the most consistent of any of the Royals' starters.

"You want statistics -- obviously he's the No. 1 pitcher on our staff," Hillman said... "If the postseason started four or five days from now, Zack Greinke would probably be the guy we'd put on the hill for the first game."

Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.