LOS ANGELES — Zack Greinke's achy right arm raised questions as he prepared to start Game 4 of Houston's AL Division Series.
Once Thursday's game got going, everyone was wondering about his fingers, instead.
Greinke held up two fingers as Oakland's Ramón Laureano dug in during the second inning, sparking speculation that the offbeat right-hander was challenging Laureano by telling him what was coming — a theory seemingly supported when Laureano smashed Greinke's hanging slider 440 feet for a tiebreaking, three-run homer.
The 36-year-old Greinke said the reality was far more routine. He was merely telling Astros catcher Martín Maldonado which intricate set of hand signals they should use to call pitches with an A's baserunner on second base.
“That’s just what I’ve been doing this year for the most part. I just switched the pitch so it doesn’t waste time,” Greinke said after Houston won the division series in four games and advance to the AL Championship Series.
Laureano also homered off Greinke in the fifth, again on a slider. He said he didn't notice Greinke's hand gesture prior to the first home run.
“No, I don’t look at him when I hit. I just look at the grass," he said. “Whenever he’s ready, I just look at him."
Greinke allowed four runs, five hits in 4 2/3 innings with a walk and four strikeouts. He did not get a decision.
“That was just a bad pitch," he said of the first home run, which put the A's ahead 3-0. “The second slider I threw to him, I felt like I threw it good and he still hit it.”
Athletics manager Bob Melvin said the second-inning shot “felt like a 1,000-run homer at the time.”
Greinke has pitched five innings or fewer in each of his last five starts, including two in the post-season . But he did make the day easier on an Astros' bullpen that had been taxed the previous three games.
The bullpen gave up five runs and six hits after not allowed an earned run in its first four post-season games. Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes combined to allow only three hits in 3 1/3 scoreless innings before Ryan Pressly gave up a pair of runs in the ninth.
“It was very important for him to go that long. It allowed us to be a little more prepared,” Javier said.
Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner, is Houston's most experienced starter on a staff missing Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery and that lost Gerrit Cole to free agency.
Greinke felt soreness after his Sept. 29 start against Minnesota in a wild-card game that had been lingering. The right-hander, who turns 37 on Oct. 21, said there were no structural issues with the arm and that there were no issues on Thursday.
He should be ready when the AL Championship Series begins on Monday in San Diego against either the New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays.
“If it feels how it felt today everything should be fine,” he said. “Right now excited I am excited we get to see our families and not be locked up in a hotel.”
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Joe Reedy, The Associated Press