The game got away in the bottom of the eighth. Jeremy Guthrie continued the string of excellent startsseven innings, two earned runsbut had thrown 91 pitches and was about to face the Atlanta Braves lineup for the fourth time. Ned Yost gave the ball to Kelvin HerreraKelvin hadnt given up a run in his previous six appearances this seasonbut even a 98 mph fastball left in a bad location will leave the yard.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
Five solo shots and a walk that scored meant the Royals lost to the Braves 6-3.
When you watch Kelvin Herreraor any other pitcher for that matterwatch pitch location: if the ball is up, but still within the strike zone, bad things are about to happen.
Of course the big newsbesides the scorewas Chris Getz homer; and it wasnt a wall scraper. Chris hit it quite a few rows back in right field. I went over this in spring training, but here it is again: Chris has changed his approach. Hes spread out his feet, crouched deeper in his stance, and is emphasizing his top hand. The change in his stance is allowing Chris to get more out of his legs and emphasizing his top hand has him hitting down on the ball, which theoretically shortens his swing and creates rising backspin.
Bottom line: Chris already has four doubles, a triple and a homer and is currently hitting .300. Its only 13 games so no one should get overly excited, but its a nice start.
How good pitching might help Jeff Francoeurs hitting
Before the Royals started this road trip I asked Jeff Francoeur if there were times last season that he felt he needed to hit a bomb to get the Royals back in the game.
If the team is down by five in the seventh and you come to the plate with a couple guys on, you might think: "If I can hit one out, were right back in it." Jeff said he knows he shouldnt think like that, but the thought crosses his mind: do something big and give your team a chance to get back in the game. Some of the big swings we saw last year was Jeff trying to get big results.
With better starting pitching, Jeffs more likely to feel that he doesnt have to do something big to give the Royals a chance to win. If Francoeur comes to the plate with a lead or down by one, hes more likely to move a runner or hit a single the other waywith good pitching all he needs to do is get something started. If the pitching staff keeps the game close, it takes pressure off the offense. The hitters can relax; they dont need to do as much.
We may have seen that in this game: with the score tied 1-1 in the fourth and a runner in scoring position, Jeff lined a single to the opposite field. Down 6-2 in the ninthwhen a home run wouldnt helpFrancoeur lined another single up the middle. If Jeff tries to do less, he might wind up with a whole lot more.
A hitter comes to the plate, swings at the first pitch, makes an out and fans get upset: the hitter didnt even try to work the count. But theres a reason guys go up there hacking: in the right situation with the right pitcher on the mound, the first pitch might be the best pitch a hitter will see. Let the pitcher throw strike one while you watch and every pitch that follows might be tougher to hit.
In this game, Juan Francisco and Jason Heyward homered on the first pitch of their at-bats. According to Baseball Reference, going into this game, heres what some of the Kansas City Royals hit when they swing at the first pitch:
Alex Gordon .348
Alcides Escobar .305
Billy Butler .352
Eric Hosmer .366
Salvador Perez .304
Lorenzo Cain .314
Mike Moustakas .276
Jeff Francoeur .337
Chris Getz .309
These averages dont mean these guys should go up their hacking every time they go to the plate, they might hit even better in another count. But if a pitcher is trying to get ahead with first-pitch fastballs, hitters might be smart to tee off. Next time you see a guy swing at the first pitch, you might know why.
The Royals took early batting practice last week and I got a chance to watch new hitting coach Jack Maloof working with Eric Hosmer. Jack gave me some time afterwards and heres what he had to say:
When a hitter gets a good pitch to hit his swing stays balanced. The pitch is easily reachable, and the hitter doesnt have to distort his body to put the bat on the ball. Hitters get in trouble when they chase bad pitches; their swing breaks down because they have to lean out over the plate to reach the pitch. Thats what was happening to Hosmer.
If Eric can keep his upper body over his legs and reach an outside pitch with his hands, thats a good pitch to hit. If Eric has to lean out and reach for the pitch, hes chasing something out of the zone. But shouldnt Eric be able to feel his swing break down and stop his swing?
Thats one of those "easy to say, hard to do" things. With the lights on and the stadium rocking, keeping your emotions under control isnt easy. It takes some guys years to become a smart, focused hitter that wont chase a pitchers pitch. And of course pitchers are doing everything they can to break down a hitters swing. Theyll start a "chase pitch" in the strike zone, let the pitchs movement take it out of the strike zone and hope that the hitter chases it. As former Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane once said to me; the pitchers job is to take a hitters legs away from himget the hitter to lean out over the plate or lunge forward in order to reach the pitch.
Watch Hosmer when he comes to the plate: if you see him lean out to reach an outside pitch, hell have difficulty hitting the ball hard. If Eric stays over his legs and remains balanced, he should have a good pass at the ball.
One last thing
Jeremy Guthrie got a hit on a jam shot that rolled up the third-base line and died. James Shields was leaning on the dugout rail and could be seen with a "are you kidding me?" look on his face. Then Shields waved his hand behind his head. Thats the sign for the outfield to back up and play "no doubles."
Im guessing James was being sarcastic.