Judging the Royals

Showing some faith

Updated: 2013-05-05T04:40:58Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Turns out the only guy who had a real shot at preventing Jeremy Guthrie from throwing a complete game shutout Saturday night was Ned Yost. The moment came in the eighth inning: Guthrie had a 2-0 lead, two outs and two runners. The second runner was the problem—it brought the winning run to the plate, so Ned Yost went to the mound.

At that point Jeremy had thrown 93 pitches and the Royals were four outs away from a win. Guthrie had done his job: he got the ball the back end of the bullpen with a lead. Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera were warming in case they were needed to finish the eighth inning and Greg Holland was ready to pitch the ninth. That’s usually when you take a starter out.

Most managers are reluctant to put their starting pitcher in a position to lose a game in the later innings. They’ll often let their starter go until they face the winning run late, and then go get him. After the game Ned said 99 times out of 100, that’s exactly what he’d do, too. But Yost said Guthrie had it all working Saturday night: velocity, movement and location, so Ned went to the mound to talk. He must’ve liked what he heard, because he left Guthrie in to face the winning run; Jeff Keppinger.

The White Sox second baseman hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Guthrie came back out for the ninth—and a shot at the complete game shutout—on a short leash. Ned said if Alex Rios or Adam Dunn had gotten on, he was going to bring in Holland. Once Guthrie got two outs, then Ned was going to allow him two base runners before pulling him; Yost wasn’t going to let Guthrie face the winning run twice. Jeremy got Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, 1-2-3 and Ned never had to make a decision.

Ned Yost had to show some faith in Jeremy Guthrie to leave him in the game in the eighth inning. 13 pitches later, that faith was rewarded with a 2-0 win over the White Sox.

Playing shallow

Alcides Escobar lined out to center fielder Dewayne Wise in the first inning. Salvador Perez lined out to right fielder Alex Rios in the second. Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar lined out to Rios in the fourth inning. Then Getz lined out to Alejandro De Aza in the eighth.

So what’s up with all the line outs?

Before the game I talked to Rusty Kuntz about outfield positioning in cold weather. Rusty said that depending on the wind, outfielders might play three to five steps shallower when it’s cold. That’s what the Chicago white Sox were doing. It paid off when they caught five line drives that might normally drop for singles, but playing shallow burned them on Lorenzo Cain’s triple. Alex Rios couldn’t quite get to the ball Lorenzo hit down the right field line and it got past him for a two runs—the only runs of the game.

Playing shallow in Saturday’s conditions was a good bet: make the opposition hit it over your head. Five hitters into the first inning, Lorenzo Cain did.

Game notes

First inning: Chicago starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod is a "slinger" which means he keeps his pitching arm away from his body—that generally gives hitters a better look at the ball. Jeremy Guthrie keeps the ball behind his body for a long time and that generally makes the ball harder to pick up.

Third inning: If you saw Eric Hosmer come out of the box slowly on his triple to left, it was because Hos thought the ball was going foul. Always better to hustle out of the box and let the umpire decide.

Sixth inning: Jeremy Guthrie got off the mound in good shape and made an outstanding defensive play to get Alejandro De Aza at first base. Guthrie—unlike a lot of pitchers—finishes close to squared up to home plate which leaves him in a good fielding position. Pitchers who finish falling off to one side or another have a hard time covering whichever half of the field they fall away from. Next time Guthrie pitches, look at the dirt on the mound and you’ll see his front foot’s landing spot and then his trail foot’s landing spot, slightly closer to home.

In the bottom of the inning Axelrod got Mike Moustakas in a 1-2 count and then threw a changeup down and away. Moose pulled the ball for a groundout to second. It’s hard to pull an off-speed pitch down and away with any authority. Eric Hosmer has recently had better luck taking outside pitches the other way.

Cold weather baseball

As you can imagine, weather has been a big topic around the ballpark. The Royals have been playing in some pretty miserable conditions, so how do they deal with the cold? Turns out, a lot of the players keep chemical hand warmers in their back pockets. That’s why you see them standing around with their throwing hand jammed into a pocket until a pitch is thrown.

Lorenzo Cain said he just tries to keep moving around; he even jogs in place.

There are heating vents under the dugout bench so Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas will lay their bats and batting gloves on one of them, so if someone says Esky’s bat is heating up, they mean it.

Alex Gordon temporarily switched to an older fielding glove because the leather is softer. His usual glove is not quite broken in and the leather gets hard in the cold and that makes the ball harder to catch.

James Shields said when it’s cold the hardest pitch to throw is his changeup; he doesn’t have any fingers on a seam and the ball feels dry and slick.

Former Royals pitcher Jeff Montgomery told me his curveball was tough to throw in the cold, but he once got to pitch in a snow storm in Milwaukee. There were big, fat flakes coming down—the umpires really wanted to get the game in—and the hitters had to pick up a baseball in a blizzard. Monty said it was great: the hitters had no chance.

Rusty Kuntz said outfield positioning can change three to five steps in when it’s cold and three to five steps back when it’s hot, but the wind is more important than the temperature. If it’s cold and blowing out, you might want to stay in your normal position; the two conditions are cancelling each other out. Same thing if it’s hot and the wind is blowing in.

And if Adam Dunn at the plate, back up no matter what.

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