Judging the Royals

The Royals' game plan comes together

Updated: 2013-04-23T18:47:14Z


The Kansas City Star

Wow, good pitching sure makes everything look different, doesn’t it? Nine games into a baseball season is way too soon to conclude anything, but the last week has given us an idea of what this team looks like when it’s playing well.

Wade Davis got the win, beating the Twins 3-0, but he had to get out of two bases-loaded jams along the way. In the first inning, Davis got two quick strikeouts, wound up with the bases loaded and got Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe to pop the ball up to Eric Hosmer. In the second inning, Davis had the bases loaded with no one out and struck out Aaron Hicks and Joe Mauer, then got Josh Willingham to pop up to short.

In the past, a couple of bases-loaded jams might have resulted in a Royals loss. The pitchers might not have been able to bear down and get the job done. With improved pitching, the Royals got out of trouble with no damage.

Nothing lasts forever, and the Royals will still hit rough spots, but right now you can see the game plan working.

I haven’t heard Wil Myers’ name all week.

Game notes

• After the game, manager Ned Yost said Greg Holland was still the closer despite Kelvin Herrera coming on for the save. Greg threw 27 high-stress pitches Tuesday night, and Ned wanted to give him the day off.

• Once again, catcher Salvador Perez saved a run by blocking a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third base. This is a play that often goes unnoticed, but keeping a run off the board is just as important as putting one on.

• In the second inning, with one down and the bases loaded, Chris Getz — usually an excellent situational hitter — did not get the ball in play. With one down and a runner on third, the hitter needs to find a way to avoid the strikeout. A routine fly ball or grounder can score a run.

• After Perez doubled to lead off the fourth inning, Eric Hosmer did not find a way to move him over to third. Moving the runner over is a big deal, especially in a one-run ballgame.

• Davis threw 96 pitches through five innings. Ned said Wade should be able to go up to 110 pitches in his next outing.

• Bruce Chen came in and threw three scoreless innings. Bruce hadn’t pitched since April 5 and probably needed the work. Relievers can be overused or underused. Finding the right balance can be tricky.

• Center fielder Lorenzo Cain had a fly ball go off his glove for an E-8, but Chen picked him up by getting Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau to fly out.

I didn’t see Lorenzo after the game, so I’m guessing, but goofy as it sounds, an outfielder can get his glove up too soon and block his view of the ball. If I get a chance, I’ll ask Lorenzo if that was what happened.

• In the seventh inning, Chen could be seen cleaning the mud out of his spikes. Before the game, we talked about pitching in the rain, and Bruce said that cleaning the spikes really doesn’t do much good. Once you walk back up the mound, your spikes are clogged again.

Tack-on runs

The score was still 1-0 going into the seventh inning. Billy Butler hit a home run over the center-field fence in the first inning, and by the seventh, it was getting a little nerve-wracking. The Royals had opportunities to tack on another run, but missed them. That always makes you nervous because you figure those missed opportunities might come back to haunt you.

Then Jeff Francoeur got a pitch down in the zone and hit 404 feet. Later in the clubhouse, Jeff told me he used his golf swing. Then, with one out, Chris Getz singled and did a good job going first to third on a ball Alex Gordon dumped into the outfield.

Getz then scored on a single by Alcides Escobar. Escobar smoked the ball to left, and if Getz had still been on second, he might not have scored. Going first to third made sure the Royals got that last run in.

Who has the advantage when it’s raining?

When the rain is pouring down like it was Tuesday night, who has the advantage, the pitcher or the hitter? That was a question a reader asked, so I walked around the clubhouse and asked the players. The only thing everyone agreed on was that it was a good question.

I started with Eric Hosmer and Aaron Crow. Predictably enough, Hosmer said he thought the pitcher had the advantage, and Crow said he thought it was the hitter. Aaron said it was harder for the pitcher because the ball gets wet. And if it’s raining hard enough, the pitcher’s glove and uniform are also soaked. There’s just no way to dry your hand.

Eric came up with several disadvantages for the hitter. The bat is wet and slick. The footing is bad. And water is dripping off the brim of the batter’s helmet.

Aaron had one reason it was bad for the pitcher. Eric had several reasons it was bad for the hitter. That led Hosmer to declare, “Dude, I just smoked you in that debate.”

Alex Gordon said he thought the pitcher had the advantage, although the defense can struggle to catch a fly ball while looking up into the rain.

Lorenzo Cain, who was next, said he wasn’t sure, but I told him the hitters were sticking together and saying the pitcher had the advantage. Cain then said he wanted to stick with the other hitters, but it was still close. Jeff Francoeur had no doubt: The pitcher has the advantage.

Catcher George Kottaras was next. I figured catchers would have issues I hadn’t considered, and I was right.

George said the catcher not only has to look through the raindrops but also must deal with water dripping off the bars of his catcher’s mask. Every time a drop of water hits one of the bars, it’s like a small flash of light. Try picking up a 96-mph fastball through that.

The pitcher’s grip also affects what the catcher can call. If the pitcher can’t get a grip on his curve or slider, the catcher needs to figure that out as soon as he can. In a rainstorm, the catcher doesn’t want to delay the game by visiting the mound and having a discussion, so he might call for a breaking pitch early in the count to see if the pitcher can throw it in the wet conditions.

It’s better to find out at 0-0 than wait until the count is 3-2 and find out the pitcher has no idea where his slider is going.

The best comment came from Bruce Chen. He seriously considered the factors involved — slippery bat, wet ball, bad footing — and then said, “It sucks for everybody.”

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