ATLANTA -- A.J. Ellis has told the story more than once.
During the dark days before June 22, he was in the dugout with Zack Greinke during a game and asked Greinke what he would do to improve the Dodgers if he was in charge of personnel. Greinke said he'd have to think about it for a while.
A little later, Greinke came back to Ellis with his answer. Step one -- trade Ellis for minor league pitching and sign Braves catcher Brian McCann when he reaches free agency next winter to, you know, upgrade the position.
The story illustrates two things the Dodgers have learned about Greinke in his first year with the team. He takes a very analytical approach to most things. And he isn't one for diplomacy.
"I've really enjoyed every second of playing with Zack," Ellis said of the Dodgers' Game 2 starter. "It's not just the day he pitches. It's the other four days as well. He's a baseball junkie who loves the game. We have a lot in common, talking not just about our team but about other teams, the business of baseball. He's just a fun guy to bounce ideas off of ... some outside-the-box thinking."
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt has seen both the analytical side of Greinke as well as his forthright nature -- and likes them both.
"I knew obviously that the stuff has always been there," Honeycutt said. "I think the thing we've seen is he's very good at preparing, not being locked into anything and adjusting for each opponent. He's on top of what he wants to do. He sees what we put together and he has his own notes.
"The other thing is he's dead honest. Good or bad. I kind of like that. Sometimes when you're talking to these guys, you have to sugarcoat it for them. But to most guys, I'm pretty much straightforward. He likes it. That's the way he is. That's what makes him and Kersh (Clayton Kershaw) so good -- they honestly and objectively rate themselves. They don't sugarcoat it or put the blame somewhere else. They know they control the situation and have such high expectations of themselves."
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had his own set of expectations, having heard about Greinke's battles with social anxiety disorder. Mattingly met with Greinke when the free agent visited the Dodgers last November. The manager said he has found it to be a "fallacy" that Greinke would somehow be distant to his teammates and not a part of the team's chemistry.
"Definitely that him being uncomfortable around people is overblown," Mattingly said. "He's easy to talk to. He doesn't shy away from anything. He's been part of everything that's going on. He was part of the (fantasy football) draft the other day.
"You heard that he was some kind of recluse or something. ... He's competitive. He's smart. He's prepared. I didn't know him at all."
The Dodgers were criticized in some circles for giving a six-year, $147 million contract to a No. 2 starter, even one as accomplished as Greinke, making him the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in baseball history -- if only briefly. Despite missing five weeks of the season recovering from a broken collarbone and essentially rehabbing on the fly for a while after returning, he went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA for the Dodgers and gave them exactly the complement to Kershaw they were hoping to get.
But GM Ned Colletti doesn't look for any vindication in Greinke's performance.
"I don't look at it like that," he said. "I look at what it took to sign a player. It wasn't like the Dodgers were 5,000 feet up and everybody else was 200 feet and below. That's what it took to sign Zack. We wanted Zack and we wanted him bad obviously and we were willing to do what we did. And he's pitched great."
Colletti said he knew after that meeting in November that "this kid is sharp -- very, very sharp." But he has been impressed by Greinke's athleticism and total game.
"We tell our kids in player development -- as a pitcher you have a lot of different ways you can affect the game. How you field, how you control the running game, how you pitch and how you handle the bat," Colletti said. "There's few guys that are better examples of it than him (Greinke).
"I love having him. I love who he is and how he goes about it."
Andre Ethier's ankle injury did not prevent him from making the Dodgers roster for their NLDS against the Braves, though he will be limited to pinch-hitting. Dee Gordon made the roster, a decision that became more likely with the need to pinch-run for Ethier if he does reach base. The decisions to keep Ethier, Gordon and Scott Van Slyke, and left-hander Chris Capuano's recovery from a groin injury, left two veterans who were with the Dodgers all season out in the cold for this series. Reliever Brandon League started the season as the Dodgers' closer before being replaced by Kenley Jansen. He and slumping utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. (also bothered by back spasms) were left off the roster for the NLDS. ...
Talking to reporters before Thursday's game, Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson said he didn't see the team bidding for free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano. Signing Clayton Kershaw to a multiyear deal is the higher priority. Cano has reportedly told the Yankees he will be seeking a $300 million deal. Kershaw is expected to get the first $200 million contract given to a pitcher.
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