JUDGING THE ROYALS

Changing the scouting report

Updated: 2013-03-17T00:54:49Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Friday night against the Dodgers, Alex Gordon led off the game by swinging at the first pitch.

Most of the time, leadoff hitters start a game by taking some pitches. That allows teammates to see what the opposing pitcher has that night. Even though they’ve read scouting reports, seen video and may have faced the pitcher in the past, hitters want to see what the pitcher has right now. They know what his slider usually does, but they want to know what his slider is doing tonight.

A leadoff hitter can strike out but still have a good at-bat if he saw pitches, forced the pitcher to show everything he had and put the hitters behind him in a better position to have solid at-bats of their own. A good leadoff at-bat can result in a home run two batters later.

So why did Alex swing at the first pitch?

It changes the scouting report. If a leadoff hitter always takes the first pitch, the scouting report will say so. Opposition pitchers will groove a fastball, confident that the hitter isn’t going to swing, and the pitcher will jump out in front of the count.

By teeing off on the first pitch, Gordon sent the message that pitchers can’t count on him taking that pitch. They better be careful. Changing the scouting report changes what pitches Alex will see to start a game. Pitchers may decide to start him off with a breaking pitch, and that can mean Alex will be ahead in the count.

There are scouts at every game. Players are always being watched. Smart players can use that to their advantage.

Different players, different springs

Like I said earlier, different players have different spring training experiences. Saturday morning, Alex Gordon talked about playing the Dodgers the night before. The Royals won’t see them during the season, so Alex didn’t have to worry about hiding anything from them.

With a divisional opponent, Alex might not want to give them an early read on his approach. Alex is on the roster and has the luxury of getting ready at his own pace.

Pitcher Nate Adcock is in a different situation. He told me he had never been in the position of knowing he had made the team and feels he has to pitch well every time out. Each time Adcock takes the mound, he needs to throw up zeros. He can’t save something for later. Nate has to pitch well now.

A pitcher who has already made the team might be able to afford to work on a pitch and worry about getting results later.

Check the runner

If you walk out the back door of the Royals clubhouse, there is a giant white tent in front of you. This is where they serve the players’ meals. Go past that tent, and you’ll come to George Brett Field, one of the practice fields used by the major leaguers. Keep walking, and you’ll come to Frank White Field, the other major-league practice field. Directly across from Frank White Field is Dick Howser Field.

The Howser Field is just an infield — no outfield. And this is where a lot of the infield work is done.

Friday morning, Christian Colon was stationed at third base, infield coach Eddie Rodriguez was hitting him fungos and George Brett was watching. Colon was fielding every ball backhand .Even though every Little Leaguer has had a coach yell at him to get in front of the ball, big leaguers sometimes will play the ball off to the backhand side because it’s faster.

If you field the ball backhanded, your feet are already in the correct throwing position and your shoulder is already closed. The fielder can catch the ball and throw without readjusting his feet or body. But if he fails to catch the ball cleanly and it won’t hit his body — he’s not behind it—the ball will go into the outfield. So fielding the ball backhanded is faster, but it’s also riskier.

So when you see an infielder go to his backhand, ask yourself this question: Was it worth it?

If the guy who hit the ball can fly down the line, maybe so. Fast runners force infielders to attempt riskier plays. If the guy who hit the ball can’t run, maybe it’s not worth the risk. Playing the ball off to the side because the guy hit a rocket might not be a good play if the infielder has plenty of time.

In fact, anytime you see an infielder take a shortcut — throw on the run, use a lower arm angle or play the ball backhanded — check the runner and see whether the shortcut was necessary. Some guys avoid getting in front of balls that are smoked, and some just get lazy. Others are smart players who do something to save time when they must.

Check the runner, and you’ll have an idea of which kind of player you just saw.

Square early

The Royals played the Cubs on Saturday afternoon in Hohokam Stadium, and pitcher Bruce Chen was in the lineup.There was no designated hitter. The Royals go to Philadelphia the first week of the season, and pitchers need to be ready to hit.

The Royals won’t worry about getting relievers ready to go the plate. With double switches, it would be rare for one of them to get a plate appearance.

Bruce was called on to execute a sacrifice bunt in the third inning and got it down. Bruce didn’t try to hide the fact that he was bunting — everyone would have been surprised if he wasn’t — and squared around early.

Watch for this in games. Guys who square early have a better chance of getting their bunts down. Squaring early means the batter’s head is still and he see the ball better. If you’re bunting for a hit, you can’t give it away. If you’re sacrificing, lots of ballplayers think you need to square early.

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