Zack Greinke is hitting .316 going into Saturday's meeting with the… (Don Wright / Associated…)
Pitching in at the plate
Dodgers pitchers are batting .176 as a unit this season, which might not sound like much until you consider that's the second-best mark — behind only the Milwaukee Brewers' staff average of .205 — in the National League.
And much of that production has come from Zack Greinke, who went into his scheduled start Saturday in San Diego hitting .316 with an on-base percentage of .381. Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are the only Dodgers with higher marks.
"A lot of that's luck," said Greinke, who has struck out just twice in 19 at-bats. "It was more fun earlier on in my career. I still enjoy it. But I don't expect to get a hit when I'm up now, where when I was young I expected to."
Greinke said he played every position growing up in Florida and was especially fond of catching.
"That's why he's so smart," said teammate — and catcher — Tim Federowicz.
"I always wanted to be a hitter. Even when I was drafted I always wanted to hit," said Greinke, projected by some teams to be a shortstop after hitting .400 with 31 home runs and 144 runs batted in in high school. "It's a lot more fun than pitching. You only play once every five days, so that gets kind of boring in between starts. I always wanted to hit and play a position every day."
But Greinke said the chance to hit every start had little influence on his decision to leave the Angels and the designated hitter and sign with the Dodgers last winter.
"It was more that American League games are really boring," he said. "Not to play but watching them. There's no strategy really compared to the National League. And I didn't enjoy watching the games when I wasn't pitching."
Bucing a trend
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered Saturday night's game with the Angels 14 games above .500 and with the second-best record in baseball — rarefied air for a franchise that hasn't had a winning season in 20 years, the longest such streak of futility in U.S. professional sports.
But the Pirates have been here before. Recently.
Last year they were 16 games over .500 in August before going 16-36 the rest of the way. The year before that they led the NL Central early in the second half, then lost 46 of their final 67 games to finish fourth in the six-team division.
But as painful as those collapses were, bench coach Jeff Banister said they provided valuable lessons.
"The resiliency of who we are, what we've been through, is going to make us stronger this year," he said. "History is our greatest teacher. And it tells us that we can't blink. We can't take our foot off the pedal."
Making that a lot easier is a pitching staff that ranks second in the majors with a 3.22 earned-run average and a bullpen that leads baseball with 29 saves. That's helped make up for an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in most categories.
Focus, however, might be what the Pirates really need to avoid a third straight second-half free fall.
"One of the things that we cannot do is we can't get so ahead of ourselves we look too far ahead and worry about what's going to happen a month from now, three weeks from now," Banister said. "It's about what's going on today."
.352, eight home runs, 43 RBIs: Manny Ramirez's statistics in 49 games before skipping out on the EDA Rhinos of the Taiwan professional baseball league.
4.8: Carlos Gomez's wins above replacement player for the Milwaukee Brewers, the highest WAR in the majors.
49: Percentage of times, in 274 plate appearances, that Atlanta's Dan Uggla has failed to put the ball in play.