MILWAUKEE -- Ron Roenicke knew all along that Zack Greinke was going to take the ball for the Brewers on Sunday. Milwaukee's manager played things coy publicly, but the plan for the past few days has always been to turn to the pitcher on short rest.
"That's what we would have wanted all along," Roenicke said.
Things needed to align just right, but the manager always had confidence in Greinke's ability to toe the rubber at Miller Park for Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the D-backs. Greinke had already pitched on short rest once. Certainly, the overpowering right-hander could do it again.
"I felt good about him coming back and throwing it," Roenicke said.
Key stat: 10.5 strikeouts per 9 IP (1st in MLB as starter)
At Miller Park
2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 11.25 Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 5.73
2011: 15 GS, 11-0, 3.13 Career: 15 GS, 11-0, 3.06
Against this opponent
2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 11.25 Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 5.73
2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 2.57 Career: 4 GS, 0-2, 6.12
Loves to face: Rickie Weeks, 1-for-6 Hates to face: Casey McGehee, 5-for-5
Loves to face: John McDonald 1-for-10 Hates to face: Justin Upton, 3-for-7
Why he'll win: 2.83 ERA in his five September starts, WHIP of 1.00
Why he'll win: Unbeaten at home this season, Brewers went 15-0 in his home starts
Pitcher beware: Hasn't lost, but hasn't been sharp in Miller Park
Pitcher beware: Pitching second straight game on three days' rest.
Bottom line: Hot down the stretch
Bottom line: Home, Sweet Home
Following a 4-1 victory over the D-backs in Game 1 of the best-of-five NLDS on Saturday, turning to Greinke could be a decisive move in this first-round pairing. In the history of the Division Series, National League teams that begin with a win have gone on to win the series 28 times in 32 opportunities.
Also working in Milwaukee's favor might be the fact that the team is undefeated at home this season when Greinke takes the hill.
Having a starter return on short rest in the postseason is a familiar script for Brewers fans.
In 2008, CC Sabathia helped lead the Brewers to the National League Wild Card by working on three days' rest in each of his final three regular-season starts. As the confetti fell from the Miller Park rafters amidst a postseason-clinching celebration, general manager Doug Melvin called Sabathia's act "one of the most unselfish things an athlete has ever done."
Now, Greinke is following suit.
"I told him I'd be ready to pitch," Greinke said. "It doesn't matter when they pitch me. I said I'd be ready for sure, and it was also kind of part of the plan."
Greinke threw 74 pitches in six innings against the Pirates in his final start of the season on Wednesday. Following the fifth inning, the pitcher had a brief chat with Roenicke in the dugout. The two went over pitch selection and talked about having Greinke come out of the game with Milwaukee holding a sizable lead.
The nature of the dialogue made it clear what was on Greinke's mind.
"The way he went about it," Roenicke said, "the conversation I had in game with him after the fifth inning ... he was thinking about this game Sunday."
A couple of factors played into the decision to bring Greinke back on short rest for the second start in a row.
First, the right-hander did not want to go too long between outings. Greinke could have skipped a start and come back on more than enough rest, but the pitcher feared that extended down time could be detrimental. Roenicke understood and used Wednesday's start as a kind of tune-up for the postseason.
"Zack does not like to go a long time without pitching," Roenicke said.
"I felt better going on a short day than eight days in between starts," he explained. "I felt like I'd be too strong and maybe feel too good and too rested. So, I thought this way would be better."
It is a small sample size, but numbers support Greinke's feeling. In three outings in which he was working on six-plus days of rest, the right-hander posted an 8.25 ERA this year. A more considerable grouping of statistics, however, backs up the decision to make sure Greinke pitches at home.
Greinke went 11-0 at Miller Park this season and the Brewers went 15-0 in games that he started at home. Roenicke is quick to point out that the pitcher has had success everywhere of late (Greinke is 9-3 with a 2.80 ERA over his last 17 starts), but there is no denying the effect of working in front of the local fans.
"The results have been good here," Greinke said. "Our team plays better here. Sometimes when you get on a roll it just kind of continues easier. I don't think I even noticed I pitched any better here than on the road until maybe a month ago, when people were making a big deal out of it. It just kind of happened."
Another aspect of Greinke's season that was well-publicized was the fractured left rib he suffered while playing basketball before the season began. The Brewers pulled off a six-player swap with the Royals in December to land Greinke, and the injury kept the pitcher sidelined for all of April.
It was an unfortunate episode, but one that might have Greinke's stamina better than most pitchers at this time of year.
"It's possible," said Greinke, who went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA over 171 2/3 innings this year. "The last two weeks I've been feeling strong again. I don't know how you could really predict how you feel sometimes."
Especially when short rest is involved.
Three years ago, Sabathia pitched Game 2 of the NLDS against the Phillies, lasting 3 2/3 innings before bowing out. Brewers fans will remember, but likely wish they could forget, the grand slam belted by Philadelphia's Shane Victorino during a five-run second inning against Sabathia that afternoon.
The Brewers hope to play baseball deeper into autumn this time around.
Greinke plans on doing his part to see that through.
"It's a lot more fun to come to the park when this is going on," he said. "When you're doing good individually, it's still not fun to go to the park if your team is losing. Right now, it's fun to watch the games."