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Greinke's Return Sparks Optimism for the Dodgers

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It's one of the few times this season the Dodgers impressed me. They beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 winning the series and winning four of their last five games. It looks like things are looking up especially with the return of Zack Greinke.

"Yeah, not too bad," manager Don Mattingly downplayed after the game.

We knew this day was coming, the day Greinke would make his return from a broken left collarbone. It's been hinted at since he made his first rehab start with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Friday.

"It sounds like the doctors have seen some healing and things in there," Mattingly said on Monday. "We know he's going to pitch on Wednesday. We're just not sure where yet."

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The part that bothered me was the phrase "some healing" implying that Greinke's collarbone wasn't completely healed. In my armchair physician pedastal, it seems awfully risky to put a guy out there who's not completely healed out there in the Major League game.

"It's always taking a chance running into something," Mattingly explained. "It could happen to anybody. It could happen to Josh [Beckett] tonight diving for a bunt. Same thing could happen to him."

Well Beckett didn't run into anyone that night, but he did strain his groin trying to cover first base. So down he goes to the disabled list to make room for Greinke who did make his third start of the season at Dodger Stadium.

"I think he's going to be good," Mattingly said before the game on his expectations of Greinke. "I'm looking forward to it actually."

What he got out of Greinke was 5 1/3 innings of solid pitching, the lone mistake a fastball that Adam LaRoche sent to right centerfield to cut the Dodger lead to 2-1 in the fifth inning. Greinke fell within the 80-90 pitch count having made 83 pitches. And just to prove he's healthy enough to play, he also lined a single to right field in the second inning to score Andre Ethier for the 2-0 lead.

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"The collarbone feels pretty good," Greinke said. "Not 100%, but it doesn't restrict me at all."

The only time during his outing that the collarbone seemed to affect him was the swing before his single, and awkward lunge that had everyone cringing.

"That was the only uncomfortable swing," Greinke said. "It wasn't bad, it just didn't feel good." Greinke noted that the swings in his second at-bat during the fourth inning felt fine.

It was remarkable to watch Greinke work knowing that a little more than a month ago he underwent surgery to repair the broken collarbone that was expected to sideline him for six to eight weeks at best.

"It's pretty amazing what this guy was able to do tonight," Mattingly marveled. "It's amazing he's throwing strikes like that, he still uses his pitches. He knows what he's doing."

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I hate to compare one athlete to another especially in different fields, but it seemed Kobe-esque at how quickly he was able to get back on the field.

"He worked his butt off when he was hurt," Mattingly said. "He wanted to get back as soon as possible. And he wanted to be competitive when he got back. And he was."

Leading up to today, Greinke had been tense. Normally taciturn, it was even worse over the last week as he was preparing for this start. After the game it seemed like he took a deep breath, hitting one liners out of the park.

"I was hoping they weren't playing so shallow that I couldn't flare it and get thrown out at first base," Greinke deadpanned.

One area that will need work is his stamina. "He gave us all he could give us," Mattingly noted. "He was running out of steam there in the end."

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Okay, so the great poets won't call upon Calliope to write stunning epics on this game. There was a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning that left me scratching my head. There were a lot of arms called upon from the bullpen.

But in the face of a big question mark as to what they would get from Greinke, they bore down and got the win against a team competing with the Atlanta Braves for the NL East lead. And for what we've seen out of this team for the last month, a glimmer of optimism can be seen.

Greinke's back, Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston are nearing their return, Scott Elbert is close to returning to the bullpen, Matt Kemp is hitting consistently extending his hitting streak to 14 games. Things are looking up for the Dodgers.

Now we'll see what they can do on the road with three in Atlanta and three in Milwaukee.