KANSAS CITY, Mo. — — Zack Greinke's lingering lower-back issue and a reluctance to push the starter past 110 pitches were among the factors contributing to Manager Mike Scioscia's decision to remove him in the ninth inning Saturday night against the Kansas City Royals.
The Angels had a 2-0 lead when Scioscia pulled Greinke for closer Ernesto Frieri, who, within a span of four pitches, gave up a two-run home run to Billy Butler and a walk-off home run to Salvador Perez for a 3-2 loss.
"He's had a little lower-back tightness on his left side that has hampered him for a few starts," Scioscia said of Greinke, who is 4-0 with a 1.70 earned-run average in his last five games. "He seems to be pitching through it and pitching well.
"We talked between innings, and he felt strong enough to start the ninth. But there's no doubt that where he was his last few starts, getting into the 115- to 120-pitch range was something that was not going to be real comfortable."
Greinke departed after his 109th pitch was hit for a one-out single by Alex Gordon. The right-hander, acquired from Milwaukee on July 27, passed the 110-pitch mark in five of his first nine starts with the Angels, but he threw fewer than 100 pitches in each of his last six starts for Milwaukee.
Greinke passed 110 pitches in only three of his 21 games with the Brewers, and he missed a start in July to "re-charge his batteries," according to the team.
"He might have had more in his tank, but we wanted to give Ernie, who's been really strong, enough wiggle room in case he got behind in counts," Scioscia said. "There are a lot of variables that go into it."
Was the fact that Frieri threw 30 pitches in Friday night's win a factor? Yes, Scioscia said, but only in letting Greinke start the ninth, not in the decision to use the hard-throwing closer.
Frieri, who had a 1.91 ERA and converted 19 of 21 save opportunities before Saturday, hadn't pitched in four days before Friday. He was well-rested and told the manager he "felt good" after Friday night's outing.
"We had confidence Ernie would come in and get it done," Scioscia said.
The Angels survived a scary moment in the fourth inning Sunday when center fielder Mike Trout and right fielder Torii Hunter collided on Butler's drive to the gap.
The ball hit Hunter's glove and fell for a double, shaking up both defenders temporarily but not enough to knock either out of the game. Butler scored on shortstop Erick Aybar's throwing error to pull the Royals to within 4-3.
"He ran into my stomach, and I lost my breath," Hunter said. "But we're both OK."
Albert Pujols spent Saturday night at a Kansas City-area hospital, where his wife, Deidre, delivered the couple's fifth child, a daughter named Esther Grace, at 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
Pujols started at designated hitter Sunday and doubled once in four at-bats, but he was thrown out trying to stretch his hit off the center-field wall into a triple in the fifth inning.