Will Brawl, Broken Collarbone Be Zack Greinke's Defining Moment as a Dodger?

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2013

Zack Greinke's still-brief tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers was off to an auspicious start, with 11.1 innings pitched in two games, an ERA of 1.59 and a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Then came Thursday's debacle against the San Diego Padres—specifically, Carlos Quentin. 

After cruising through the first five innings of the game, Quentin worked the count full against Greinke. Then the 2009 American League Cy Young winner threw a fastball that hit the Padres slugger just above the elbow. 

Immediately after, it seemed like no big deal, especially when you consider that Quentin gets hit by pitches all the time. In this still-young decade of baseball, he has been hit 14 more times than anyone else in the league (per Fangraphs). 

But Quentin decided to take things to the next level and started jawing with Greinke before charging the mound. 

So you have Quentin, who is listed at 240 pounds, going right at Greinke, who is listed at 195 pounds, head on. Of course it was going to end badly for Greinke and the Dodgers. The right-handed pitcher threw his left shoulder out and suffered a broken collarbone as a result. 

Quentin completely overreacted, because there is no way that Greinke is intentionally hitting him after throwing five pitches in the at-bat and in a one-run game.

Things got so heated that, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, Quentin and Matt Kemp had to be separated as they were leaving the stadium. 

Moving ahead to the bigger picture, you have to look and wonder what this does for Greinke, the Dodgers and the National League West picture at large. 

Remember, the Dodgers have had to look in their division and see the San Francisco Giants win two of the last three World Series titles thanks, in large part, to a dominant pitching staff led by two horses at the top. 

There is little doubt that the Dodgers front office saw what Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner did in October and imagined what they could do if they paired Greinke up with Clayton Kershaw, who is widely regarded as one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball. 

So when Greinke signed with Los Angeles for six years and $147 million in the offseason, everyone was talking about championships and restoring the glory to a franchise that hasn't been to a World Series since 1988. 

An injury like this could easily derail those hopes for at least one season. While there hasn't been an official timetable for Greinke's return, one would expect that this is an injury you don't rush or come back early from. 

Even though it was the left collarbone that broke, Greinke won't be able to throw until it is completely healed. Then he has to go through rehab to rebuild his arm strength and make enough minor league starts so he is ready in his return.

As far as moments that will define a career go, Greinke certainly picked/was picked by a memorable one. But is this going to be the first thing that we recall when we look back on his time in Dodger Blue?

One thing to remember is that Greinke's contract does include an opt-out clause after the 2015 season, so we don't know if he will be with the team for the full six years. 

But as far as the signature moment of Greinke's career with the Dodgers goes, it is hard to see this being the one thing that we point to when we look back in a few years. 

To begin with, unless you are a journeyman who was involved in a big brawl, there are so many things that we will be able to think of more fondly. The only reason most people know Kyle Farnsworth is because he slammed Paul Wilson to the ground in 2003. Otherwise, he would be talked about for his hundreds of failures on the mound. 

Greinke is not that kind of pitcher. He got a $147 million contract because his talent is off the charts, he has a long history of success, and is just 29 years old. In theory, he should have many big years ahead of him. 

If Greinke wins a Cy Young Award with the Dodgers, or is on the mound for a division- or playoff-clinching start, or pitches masterfully in a World Series game, this brawl doesn't even sniff the defining-moments category. 

In fact, the only reason we are talking about it potentially being the defining moment for Greinke's Dodgers career is because we have nothing else to go by. He has only pitched 11.1 innings with his new team. 

Suppose, for a moment, that this incident happened in June but Greinke had a game against San Francisco where he threw eight shutout innings with just three hits allowed and 12 strikeouts. 

The sample size for Greinke's Dodger career would still be small, but you would also have that one great performance to look back on and remember why he was rewarded with that big contract in the first place.

Of course, an incident like this brawl is going to get a lot more attention from fans and the media than a brilliantly pitched game, because it gives everyone more to react to.

We can pick apart why Quentin decided, after all the times he has been hit by a pitch throughout his career, to charge the mound now. We are able to wonder what Greinke said after hitting him. Debate will rage on about suspending Quentin for as long as Greinke is injured. 

You can also get into bigger-picture stuff, like how does Major League Baseball try to curtail these bench-clearing brawls? 

We can look at stat sheets from each day this baseball season to find a brilliant pitching performance somewhere. That is just something you notice, shake your head and move on. It doesn't spark debate. 

When push comes to shove—bad pun intended—what people will always remember, and what everyone will associate with a great pitcher like Greinke, are the performances he had when he was on the mound. There is plenty of time for Greinke to create at least a great moment as a Dodger. I would be willing to bet that one of them will come this season when he returns. 

Thanks to the brawl and subsequent injury, it will take Greinke longer than expected to make the impact everyone expected. But it will happen.


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