KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After a nightmarish start to his post-Cy Young season, Zack Greinke is starting to look a lot more like Zack Greinke.
The strike zone no longer seems tiny. The batters do not seem so invincible as they did when he was 1-8 on June 8. Taking a shutout into the ninth inning Friday night, Greinke settled for a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in his third consecutive quality start.
"He's put together three pretty good starts here in a row," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's gaining velocity on his fastball. His command's been a lot better. He's really pitching terrific."
A slight tweak in his delivery probably helped the right-hander, who is 2-0 in his last three outings.
"I don't understand mechanics really," said Greinke (3-8), who went into the ninth hoping to help the Royals post consecutive shutouts for the first time in almost 18 years. "I just throw it hard and try to throw strikes, and that's about it."
Greinke was relieved by Joakim Soria after the first two batters in the ninth reached, including leadoff hitter Ryan Ludwick who was on because of catcher's interference. He gave up two runs, one earned, seven hits, walked two and struck out six. In the first two months of the season, he foundered around and sometimes almost felt lost.
"It was just that the strike zone was feeling small," he said. "It felt like if I threw a strike, it was a pitch to hit. If I threw a ball, it was a good pitch but it was still a ball. It looks normal now. Just throw the ball over the plate and let them hit it. It's kind of hard to make a perfect pitch every time. But at least now, if for some reason I happen to make a perfect pitch, I feel like there is nothing they can do with it, when [earlier in the season], even when I was making perfect pitches it felt like they were going to do something with it."
"We did our rallies," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We came close to breaking loose and breaking through."
The Royals beat Washington 1-0 on Thursday behind Brian Bannister and two relievers. The last time the Royals had consecutive shutouts was Sept. 29-30, 1992.
Ludwick appeared to fly out leading off the ninth but was awarded first base when home plate umpire CB Buckner ruled catcher's interference against Jason Kendall. Colby Rasmus doubled, putting Ludwick on third and bringing Soria out of the bullpen.
Jeff Suppan (0-3), making his third start since being acquired by the Cardinals, gave up seven hits and three runs in five innings. Suppan walked two, struck out five and had trouble only in the third.
With one out, Podsednik tripled into the right field corner and scored on Kendall's single. Billy Butler and Jose Guillen followed with RBI singles. Guillen extended his career-best hitting streak to 19 games, tied with the ongoing streak by Texas' Josh Hamilton.
Albert Pujols walked, loading the bases, and Greinke went to 3-0 on Ludwick before getting him to ground into a double play.
The Cardinals threatened again in the eighth with runners at the corners and two outs. But Pujols, who came into the weekend series with a lifetime average against KC of .394, grounded into a forceout.
"The whole game we had something together, we had a real shot," La Russa said. "Very often, Greinke made the pitches to get out of it, so I give him credit. He was pretty good with nobody on, too. He was just effective the whole time."
The crowd of 38,916 was the third sellout of the season.
Ludwick was back in the Cardinals lineup as the DH and batting cleanup after missing the previous two games with a sore calf muscle. ... Typical of Cardinals-Royals games, about half the crowd was wearing St. Louis red. ... The Royals signed first-round pick Christian Colon, a college shortstop, for a $2.75 million signing bonus.