This is what good starting pitching does. Even when the offense isn’t hitting on all cylinders, good starting pitching keeps you in the game.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
After the Royals beat the Blue Jays 3-2 on Sunday, Jeff Francoeur was watching the Masters golf tournament on one of the clubhouse TVs, but he still had enough attention span left over to talk about this year’s pitching staff. Instead of being down 6-2 going into the bottom of the ninth — like they might have been in the past — on Sunday, the Royals were tied with the Blue Jays 2-2.
Chris Getz hit a one-out double to right-center field. He thought it was going to be a triple but the Blue Jays outfielders closed the gap quickly. He then scored the winning run on an Alex Gordon single. After that, the celebration was on.
Ervin Santana had his second outstanding start, pitching eight innings and allowing only one earned run. You never know how long this will keep up, but when the starters throw like this, the Royals will always have a chance.
• Centerfielder Jarrod Dyson cost the Royals a run with an error in the first inning. With Melky Cabrera on first base, Toronto’s Jose Bautista singled to center. The ball came up on Dyson, got away from him, and both runners advanced. Edwin Encarnacion hit what probably would have been a double-play ball without the error, but instead, Melky scored from third base.
• Dyson then saved a run in the third by running down a long Cabrera drive with a runner on second. Jarrod made the catch and the runner, Munenori Kawasaki, could only advance to third after tagging up. Without Dyson’s catch, Kawasaki would have scored easily.
• The catch also kept the double play in order, and the Royals turned it on the next batter, Jose Bautista—6-4-3.
• Dyson’s speed also resulted in a run in the bottom of the third. With no one out, Jarrod hit a ball in the right-center gap. Most guys stop at second because they don’t want to make the first out at third. Dyson kept going and got to third easily.
• Then Dyson’s speed got Alex Gordon a hit. Gordon hit a dribbler down the third-base line, Toronto’s pitcher, Brandon Morrow, picked it up, but was afraid to throw the ball to first, knowing Dyson would score from third on the throw. Morrow held the ball and Alex had a hit.
• Dyson then scored on Alcides Escobar’s fly ball to right. So if you’re counting, Dyson was responsible for allowing the Blue Jays to score a run, preventing the Blue Jays from scoring a run and allowing the Royals to score a run. That puts him one run up.
• Toronto’s Rajai Davis stole second on a close play. Alcides Escobar was out in front of the bag and reached back to make the tag. If Esky had been straddling second base when he received the throw from Salvador Perez, Davis might have been out.
• With Davis on second, the Royals attempted multiple pickoffs. If you get an out, it’s great, but sometimes all those pickoffs are designed to shorten a lead and give the outfielders a chance to throw the runner out at the plate should the batter single.
• In the seventh inning with one out and the go-ahead run on third, Gordon struck out looking. That’s a situation where the batter has to find a way to get the ball in play. It was nice to see Alex come back and get the game-winning hit.
Shields’ two mistakes
James Shields is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. When you’re a top-of the-rotation guy, you tend to face other top-of-the-rotation guys — at least at the beginning of the season, when pitching rotations still match up.
James threw a complete game two-hitter Saturday night, but still got beat by R.A. Dickey and the Blue Jays. After the game, James said he made two mistakes: walking Munenori Kawasaki and hanging a curveball to Jose Bautista. Bautista then drove in Kawasaki with a two-run bomb that traveled over 400 feet.
Sunday morning, I asked James if the walk to Kawasaki was a bigger mistake than hanging a curveball to Bautista.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Jose Bautista is going to hit some home runs. Every pitch can’t be perfect. You live with what Jose does with some of those mistake pitches because you can’t control it. But you should be able to control walking the No. 9 hitter—especially a l eadoff walk to the No. 9 hitter.
Leadoff walks or worse than one or two-out walks because a leadoff walk allows the other team to use its outs to advance the runner around the bases. After a grounder and a wild pitch, Kawasaki was on third base. And Kawasaki standing on third helped Bautista hit the home run.
Without a runner on third base, Shields said he might have bounced the curve that Bautista hit out of the park. With a runner on third, James didn’t want to throw the pitch in the dirt, but left it too high in the zone. Bautista crushed it and there was your ballgame. But the bigger mistake was the leadoff walk, not the Bautista homer.
I told James that I imagined the Royals would settle for a two-hit complete game every time out, and James said he would settle for the same thing. He just wants to avoid those leadoff walks.
Miggy on first
Miguel Tejada is now a utility player. So what position is hardest for him? The answer might surprise you — it’s first base.
If you’ve never played first base at a serious level and then someone starts showing you what playing the position requires, you would be amazed at how much there is to do over there. You’ve got to handle pickoff throws, coming off the bag after the ball is delivered to home plate, pop flies that drift near the stands, cutoffs in the middle of the infield and the odd throws a right-handed first baseman has to make to second base.
The biggest job for a first baseman is handling bad throws from teammates. A good first baseman makes the entire infield better. A bad first baseman makes everybody worse. If a first baseman can’t handle bad throws, infielders will start eating the ball, putting it their your pocket. The guy over at first can’t help you out if you launch a bad one.
Miguel said he’s working hard to learn the position — I’ve been seeing that in early work — but he still has a lot to learn. That’s baseball for you. Sixteen years in the big leagues, and Miguel Tejada is still learning.