PHILADELPHIA -- On any given day, the pitchers on Major League Baseball's trade market could be engaged in any number of activities. Cole Hamels presumably spent Tuesday swapping text messages with his agent. Ryan Dempster calmly assessed his options and tested the patience of fans in Chicago and Atlanta. Francisco Liriano nursed a 2 2/3-inning, seven-run hangover and Wandy Rodriguez gained 21 games in the standings on his way from Houston to Pittsburgh.
All things considered, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke was living the good life. After an extended hiatus, he moved past the Bizarro-world portion of his season and returned to the mound before a sellout crowd against Cliff Lee in Philadelphia.
If this was a trade audition, Greinke pitched well enough to prompt teams to reassess their offers and ramp up their pursuits. Who knows? A week from now, he might be playing for a contending team with a functioning bullpen.
Greinke dazzled the Phillies for seven innings with his arm, bat and glove. He threw 87 pitches and left after seven innings with a 6-1 lead, at which point relievers began trooping out of manager Ron Roenicke's bullpen like arsonists spilling out of a Volkswagen. In the eighth inning, the Phillies sent 10 men to the plate and scored six runs to beat Milwaukee 7-6, building on their recent momentum and sucking the life out of the Brewers' clubhouse for the second straight night.
The Brewers have now lost five straight games to drop to 44-52. They're 12.5 games out of first place in the National League Central and 8.5 games out in the wild-card race. Even Bernie Brewer can't like those odds.
Owner Mark Attanasio was in town to watch Tuesday's debacle and might be more inclined now to give general manager Doug Melvin the go-ahead to more aggressively shop the team's veteran pieces. That means third baseman Aramis Ramirez, first baseman Corey Hart and, most notably, Greinke, one of the most athletic pitchers in baseball and a true artiste when he's on a roll.
Greinke crammed a lot of impact into a single box score against the Phillies. He struck out five, allowed only three hits and didn't walk a batter in his seven innings. He also laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt, hit a solo homer and made several fine defensive plays -- including a snag of a Chase Utley comebacker and a sweet pickup and throw of an infield chopper to beat John Mayberry Jr. by a step.
"It was a fun game," Greinke said afterward. "It was like being in high school, kind of, between the pitching and the hitting."
The performance all but knocked the breath out of Roenicke.
"That's a full package, isn't it?" Roenicke said. "That's as good a performance as you can have all around as a pitcher. We know he's a good hitter. We know he's a good fielder. We know he can pitch. And he did all of those things tonight at a pretty incredible level."
The Brewers are making a sincere effort to try to keep Greinke in the fold. Last week he confirmed that the team has offered him a five-year deal in the area of $100 million. But he declined to address the topic after his latest start, and all the signs point to him hitting the free-agent market in November. If Hamels can get a mega-deal done with the Phillies in the next few days, Greinke has a chance to be the numero uno pitcher available this winter.
Before the Brewers arrived at Citizens Bank Park, Greinke's strange July odyssey had threatened to put a major crimp in his trade value. He entered Tuesday's start with an 0-1 record, a 9.00 ERA (14 earned runs in 14 innings pitched) and a .317 batting average against this month. On July 7, he spiked a ball in anger against Houston and was ejected after four pitches. He returned to pitch the next day against the Astros and christened the second half of the season against Pittsburgh, becoming the first pitcher to start three straight games since Red Faber of the 1917 Chicago White Sox.
That little piece of outside-the-box thinking by Roenicke got Greinke outside his comfort zone. He looked out of kilter against the Astros and Pirates, prompting potential suitors to wonder if he was injured, worn out or in any position to help a contending team down the stretch.
"He has the best pure stuff of probably anybody out there," said a National League personnel man. "But there's a lot of risk with him."
It's no secret that Greinke's history of social anxiety disorder and quirky personality makes some big-market clubs wary. But when he's on his game, he exudes a joy and energy that are awfully fun to watch. A scout in attendance Tuesday raved about Greinke's "poised presence" and "aggressive approach" against the Phillies, as well as his fastball location and the varied speed and break on his curveball.
"He would be a solid No. 2 starter for me -- a nice add for a serious contender," the scout said. "He's got some pop, too."
Given how sad the Milwaukee bullpen has been of late, it was natural to wonder if Roenicke could have squeezed another inning out of him against the Phillies. But Greinke did not fare well during the July 7-13 portion of the schedule, and Roenicke was hesitant to repeat that fiasco.
"It comes to a point where you have to worry about the individual and the pitcher," Roenicke said. "I pushed Zack [recently] and it didn't work very well. I would not feel good if I pushed him again, put him out there for the eighth inning, and two or three days from now when he throws his bullpen, he comes up and says, 'You know something? I don't feel right again.' I can't do that."
Greinke, for his part, supported the manager's decision to lift him after seven.
"I think Ron is probably the smartest manager I've played for," he said. "All his decisions are well thought-out and to me always make sense. At least they do 99 percent of the time. I told him, 'I still feel good. But under the circumstances, I'm fine with whatever you decide to do.'"
Greinke now has one start left until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He'll press on amid the onslaught of trade rumors and the presence of all those scouts behind home plate. Texas, Baltimore, Atlanta, the White Sox and Angels are among the teams that have expressed an interest in him. Will he stay or will he go? It'll take a lot of phone calls and text messages to determine the answer to that question.
"Doug hasn't said anything to me about them trading me," Greinke said. "I'm assuming I'll still be here. Obviously, something could happen. But I enjoy playing here and I don't really look forward to being traded from this place. It's just baseball. I won't take it personal if it happens."
On Wednesday, Greinke will do his running and shagging while Dempster takes center stage for the Cubs in Pittsburgh. Then James Shields will pitch for Tampa Bay against Baltimore on Thursday. Another day, another audition. This is how life works at the trade deadline.