Minute Maid makes a difference

The left field wall in Minute Maid Park is 315 feet from home plate. The left-field foul pole in Kauffman Stadium is 330 feet from home plate, but the wall is curved there and drops away sharply. There’s no signage to give fans an exact distance, but it’s clear that hitting a ball over the left field wall in Kansas City is much harder than hitting a ball over the left-field wall in Houston—and both teams proved that Wednesday night.

Yordano Ventura’s first win

Tuesday night Yordano Ventura pitched seven innings while giving up four hits and only one earned run—but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. If I counted right, Ventura threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 28 batters he faced. (And if I counted wrong he still threw a whole bunch of first pitch strikes.)

How to not hit; advice from an expert

When Clint Hurdle was the hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies I asked him what he thought of Hal McRae as a hitting coach. Clint said hitters listen to some hitting coaches because they know how to hit; hitters listen to other hitting coaches because they know everything that doesn’t work.

Why not walk Joe Mauer?

This one got away in the second inning and explaining why takes some doing. Jason Kubel and Josmil Pinto singled to start things off. Kurt Suzuki then laid down a sacrifice bunt and Royals starting pitcher James Shields came off the mound to field the ball. Shields appeared to have a play at third, but dropped the ball. The bases were loaded with nobody out.

Lorenzo Cain’s second inning at-bat

If you want to know where this one started to go wrong you could do a lot worse than looking at Lorenzo Cain’s second inning at-bat. The score was Twins 2, Royals 1 and Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a double. When you’re the 8-hole hitter and an important run is on second base with nobody out, your job is to make sure the tying run gets moved over to third.

What outfield positioning tells you

A hitter steps to the plate while the outfield coach stands on the top step of the dugout and waves his hands in the air. The coach is repositioning the outfield and If you pay attention you can get a decent idea of what the pitcher is about to throw to the batter.

Starting pitching carries the Royals

If you’re inclined toward pessimism, be a baseball fan—you’ll almost always have something to complain about. Ask ballplayers how often a team is hitting on all cylinders and they’ll tell you that over the course of a season you’ll get maybe a week, maybe a week and a half of worry-free baseball. Whether it’s the starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting or the defense, there’s almost always some part of a team’s game that’s in a funk. When that happens some other part of a team’s game has to cover for the part that isn’t working.

Jason Vargas pitches to the park

Kauffman Stadium’s outfield contains a lot of real estate and Monday night Jason Vargas used most of it. Vargas had 13 fly ball outs, seven of them hit to the deepest part of the K—center field. He finished the night with eight innings pitched, four hits, one walk, two strike outs, one earned run and three tired outfielders.

Shields vs. Sale: Two No. 1s at the top of their games

Sunday’s game took two hours and 49 minutes—a game that short means pitchers are dealing. They’re getting it and throwing it and when they throw it, they’re generally throwing strikes. Hitters are not waiting around to get a good pitch to hit. With two of the best pitchers in the American League throwing, a marginal pitch to hit will have to do.

Is Bruce Chen a witch?

During Saturday’s 4-3 win against the White Sox I got an email from a buddy—he wanted to know if Bruce Chen was a witch. I’m almost positive the answer is no, but I understand the question. How does a guy throw six and a third innings, strike out seven, walk nobody and give up exactly zero earned runs when he’s throwing a fastball that topped out at 86 miles an hour?

Give some credit to Salvador Perez

Oddly enough, when there’s no Cy Young winner on the mound, the Royals offense looks a whole lot better. After facing Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, Kansas City got a shot at White Sox starting pitcher Erik Johnson. The Royals hitters made the most of the opportunity: 10 hits, three walks and seven earned runs in 4 and 2/3s innings.

Did anyone notice Jason Vargas?

When Thursday’s game against the Tigers got rained out, I thought about what I might write on an off day. My first idea was to go back and see how Max Scherzer contained the Royals hitters. How often did Scherzer find himself in a fastball count and what did he throw in those counts?

A leadoff walk: the beginning of the end

Tim Collins came in to pitch the tenth inning in a tie ballgame and walked Detroit’s leadoff hitter, Austin Jackson, on six pitches. All six were fastballs so Collins was trying to throw strikes, but just didn’t have it.

The one pitch James Shields wanted back

We tend to focus on what happens in the late innings of a ballgame, but when you get beat 4-3, that first run did just as much damage as the fourth one. After the Royals lost to the Tigers, pitcher James Shields said there was only one pitch he wanted back.

The Royals and the fastball count

If you want to know what’s happening on a baseball field, you’ve got to pay attention to the count. The count changes everything. Here’s a rundown of the basics: 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and sometimes 3-2 are generally considered "fastball counts" although—like everything else in baseball—there are exceptions.

Beware the emotional explanation

Walk into a big league press box and the first thing you notice is how many people aren’t there. Media members who have no trouble pinpointing the faults of the manager, players or GM may not actually go to the trouble of watching the games they analyze.

Appreciating the routine play

One shortstop has a ball hit to his right, dives for it, makes the grab, jumps up and makes a leaping, twisting throw from the outfield grass that just barely gets the runner at first base. Another shortstop has the ball hit right at him, makes a routine catch-and-throw and gets the runner easily.

Random notes from spring training

One thing that irritates ballplayers to no end is members of the media who only want to talk to them when things go wrong. If you write about the things they do right and not just the mistakes they make, ballplayers are much more likely to accept that you’re just doing your job.

How Mike Moustakas changed his swing

Right before I met Jeff Francoeur for the first time I asked Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle if he had any message for Frenchy. Hurdle had been Francoeur’s hitting coach in Texas and I thought he might have some message he wanted to pass along. Here’s what Clint said: "RCF is the key."

How bad baseball can produce good numbers

Numbers, numbers, numbers—baseball is all about numbers. Ballplayers get paid for the numbers they put up and if you pay attention you’ll see some ballplayers protecting those numbers. If you want to know how bad baseball can produce good numbers, watch the following:

Jarrod Dyson and the beauty of a bunted baseball

We’re on the back fields of the baseball complex in Surprise, Arizona. It’s not yet noon, but you can already feel the heat beating down on your head. They say it’s a dry heat, but I’m pretty sure they say the same thing about Hell. Coach Rusty Kuntz has already thrown ball after ball off the centerfield wall so the Kansas City outfielders could practice playing the carom. After that Rusty threw about 140 pitches in batting practice. Now he’s working with outfielder Jarrod Dyson on bunting. Everyone else has gone inside—it’s just Rusty, Jarrod and me.