CINCINNATI -- But for fleeting glimpses, the Brewers still have not seen the dominant Zack Greinke -- the one who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after his remarkable run to the 2009 American League Cy Young Award and was dubbed a pitching genius, the one for whom Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin traded his top two pitching prospects, his 24-year-old starting shortstop and his future starting center fielder.
Here's the thing: Even when Greinke is not at his best -- and he was far from his best on this steamy Tuesday night -- he is good enough to win. He has been doing a lot of that lately.
Greinke slogged through six innings on 109 pitches, but he limited the Reds to two runs and was backed by Corey Hart's four RBIs in a 7-2 victory that snapped the Brewers' six-game losing streak at Great American Ball Park.
The Brewers improved to 5-1 when Greinke starts, and the right-hander improved to 4-1. Never mind that his ERA is 5.29.
"It's still not 'that guy,' not the guy that I've seen," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, the former Angels coach who saw plenty of Greinke in American League games against the Royals.
Roenicke expected to see that guy on Tuesday, considering Greinke was coming off a May 25 win over the Nationals in which he struck out 10 batters and breezed through the Washington lineup aside from a three-batter hiccup that included Michael Morse's home run.
But Greinke lacked his good command against the Reds and said he was essentially forced to rely on one pitch -- his slider.
"They had some good at-bats, but I only had one pitch that I was throwing how I wanted to, so it made it tough," he said. "I got through it. By the fifth and sixth inning, everything started coming together a little bit."
When it does come together for Greinke, like it did against the Nationals, or for four perfect innings on May 15 against the Pirates before that outing unraveled, Roenicke believes the Brewers will get fair payment for the haul of prospects they sent to Kansas City.
"When he's right, we're going to see consistent performances from him for a long stretch of time," Roenicke said. "But you look at it, he gave up two runs. He did a great job, I thought, for battling as hard as he battled."
Hart, slowed by a nasty illness the previous three days, announced his return to full strength with two run-scoring hits -- including a three-run, third-inning home run off Chad Reineke (0-1), who was making his Reds debut. Hart's 394-foot homer to center field came two innings after he nearly homered to right, and three batters after Nyjer Morgan had put the Brewers on the board with an RBI single. Hart added an RBI single in the seventh.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy delivered some insurance in the sixth inning with a two-out, solo home run to cap an outstanding month of May. The second-year Brewers catcher batted .298 for the month and led the team with five home runs and 20 RBIs.
Greinke needed the help.
He did not retire the Reds' leadoff man until the fifth inning and did not work a 1-2-3 inning until the sixth. Greinke surrendered six hits and walked as many batters -- three -- as he did in his first five starts combined.
"This was a battle," Roenicke said. "He just couldn't put guys away. ... Then, all of a sudden, in the last two innings, he gets it. I don't know what was different."
Only one of the Reds batters who walked came around to score -- Jonny Gomes, in a fourth inning that could have been much, much worse. Greinke faced a bases-loaded jam with no outs, but induced a double-play groundout from Reineke that cut Milwaukee's lead to 4-2, then struck out Drew Stubbs on three pitches.
"Honestly, I think we beat ourselves today," Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "I think we hit the ball pretty good. They were just playing in the right spots. I hit some balls good today and Scott Rolen did, too. We didn't score some runs. [Greinke] still has his good stuff. He's one of the best pitchers in the league, and today was just not our day, really. He kept the ball down real good, and we just lost."
The double play was the game's turning point. Reineke worked to a full count before Greinke threw a fastball down the middle. The opposing pitcher hit a grounder to shortstop.
"Zack was trying to strike him out and he couldn't strike him out," Roenicke said. "[Reineke] swung at the first two breaking balls and looks bad, and then doesn't swing at the rest."
Said Greinke: "I don't know what he was doing, man. He started taking some really good pitches. I don't know how he did it, but it was a really good at-bat."
Lucroy found the sequence very suspicious.
"We had to be tipping pitches or something. I don't know what was going on," Lucroy said. "We're going to check it out and see what was going on with that. He took some pretty good pitches. I was really surprised that he didn't swing at them. It might have been me -- I might have been tipping pitches. Sometimes I do that. The way I was setting up, maybe I was giving locations away."
Greinke escaped, and became the first Milwaukee starting pitcher to win at Great American Ball Park since left-hander Manny Parra on July 18, 2009. The Brewers are 2-12 in their last 14 games here.
"We played really good for the whole game," Greinke said. "The first four innings were a real struggle for me, personally. We ended up getting out of it."