LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers haven't been the same since Zack Greinke was injured, and on Wednesday night he'll return against Washington, even though his surgically repaired left collarbone isn't fully healed.
"There is some risk. But there's also some risk starting [Clayton] Kershaw today," said Greinke, who is returning a month ahead of medical projections after being injured in the April 11 benches-clearing melee in San Diego.
"I'm sure there's a lot of risk every day. If it makes sense, you do it. If I didn't feel ready, I wouldn't do it. If it was 50/50, you don't do it. I say it's well worth the risk we're taking. If everyone in baseball had the same feeling I have, everyone would be playing. It's nothing superhero-ish. If you felt what I feel, you'd do the same thing."
With his club having fallen into last place and all parties believing that another rehab start isn't necessary, Greinke returns to a rotation that has also lost starters Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano, Stephen Fife and possibly Josh Beckett to injury.
"I don't know how long it will take to be 100 percent crisp, but I feel good throwing all my pitches," he said. "Stuff is coming out crisp, nothing is holding me back. I'm ready to go."
To avoid a relapse of his injury, Greinke has been warned to avoid collisions and diving. While his collarbone occasionally feels soreness after a workout, he said the injury didn't hinder his pitching during the one rehab start he made Friday night for Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
He said one way to avoid a freak collision, especially covering first base on defense, is to be in the right place at the right time.
"Just do what you're supposed to do to avoid that stuff," he said. "You can't always avoid it, but it's rare. It could happen a month from now, too. You want me to not pitch another month because there's less than a one percent chance something can happen? Just play."
"He feels like he's ready," manager Don Mattingly said before Tuesday's game against the Nationals. "His stuff kind of tells us he's ready. He wants to pitch."
Greinke was injured when Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin, hit by a Greinke pitch for the third time in their careers, charged the mound and Greinke lowered his left shoulder to take the blow. Greinke had a metal plate and screws inserted into his collarbone to repair the fracture two days later and Quentin was suspended for eight games..
The Dodgers will need to clear a roster spot for Greinke on Wednesday. Mattingly said right-hander Josh Beckett is a "candidate" to go in the disabled list because he tweaked his left groin covering first base Monday and left his start after three innings.
"He's sore, kind of in both groins," the manager said. "They want to give it 24 hours to see where it's going and make a decision."
Still, Greinke's return will bolster the Dodgers' rotation. The right-hander, signed to a $147 million free-agent contract during the offseason, was 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in two starts before his injury.
"Zack is obviously a big key," Mattingly said. "Getting him back gives you another Kershaw. And with the way Hyun-Jin [Ryu] is pitching, that's a pretty good threesome right there."
"It sounds like he'd be able to handle some kind of blow [to the collarbone], maybe not the same type of blow [as in San Diego], but he could bump into something and not actually get hurt," Mattingly said.
Greinke was able to resume throwing a week after surgery, so the Dodgers are not concerned about his arm strength and will limit him to between 90-100 pitches Wednesday.
What other limitations will Greinke have?
"He's going to be able to swing the bat," Mattingly said. "I think we'll probably limit that a little bit from the standpoint of just trying to hit homers. We don't want him to dive for a bunt. Other than that, he's pretty much OK to go. The risks are if something out of the ordinary happens. It could happen any day and it could happen to anybody."