JUDGING THE ROYALS

Brett, Kendall face Paulino in simulated game

Updated: 2013-06-26T14:53:02Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

There were two games played at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday; the one the public saw at 7:10 and the simulated game I saw at 3PM. A simulated game is put on for a pitcher—in this case, Felipe Paulino. Felipe was going to pitch three innings and face live batters while doing it. The live batters were George Brett and Jason Kendall. In some simulated games the hitters just stand there, in this one the hitters were going to swing the bat. In most simulated games the pitcher is the object of everyone’s interest, in this one, people showed up to see Felipe and the hitters.

George Kottaras was behind the plate, called balls and strikes and told the hitters what was coming. (Hey, George is 60 and Felipe was throwing 95.) George always stood off the plate as a player and when Kottaras would call fastball in, Bret would scoot back a bit more. Kendall looked like he could still play and if his right shoulder wasn’t held together with rubber bands and staples, he probably would.

After watching George Brett hit from good seats behind the dugout, bad seats in the upper deck or sitting on my couch at home, it was interesting the see that familiar stance from 20 feet away. Mike Moustakas walked by and I asked him how cool it was to see Brett in action. "Awesome, I don’t want to miss a pitch."

Over the three innings there were walks, strikeouts and routine groundballs, but before it was over Kendall hit a line drive up the middle and Brett has a solid single to left. After it was over Felipe walked past me and said, "I just faced a Hall of Famer—how about that?"

As George left the field I asked him how it was facing live pitching again and he said considering he hadn’t been in a batting cage in 20 years and Paulino was throwing 95: "Not that much fun." Guess it depends on your perspective; from where I was standing it was a blast.

Atlanta closer Kimbrel takes it 'to another dimension'

Jeff Francoeur had a pretty good seat for this game and he said that after David Lough hit that single in the ninth inning, Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel "took it to another dimension."

Here’s what happened: the Braves were up 4-3 and Kimbrel started the ninth by walking Mike Moustakas on eight pitches—the tying run was on board. Two pitches later David Lough hit a line drive into right center and the tying run was on third, the winning run on first. According to Francoeur, that’s when Kimbrel stepped it up.

I asked Frenchy if stepping it up was a mental thing or a physical thing and Jeff thought it was more mental. He said that some closers almost need a base runner or two to get down to work—remember Jonathan Broxton? Once they get challenged, their stuff gets better. Kimbrel wasn’t throwing any harder after Lough’s single, but Jeff said the pitches were sharper, crisper—better located.

With the tying run on third and nobody down, Elliot Johnson stepped to the plate. Kimbrel’s fastball had touched 100 miles an hour; his slider came in as slow as 85. 15 miles an hour is a lot of territory to cover, so hitters sometimes have to pick a pitch; your either going to hit the fastball or the slider, but not both. Elliot gambled on a first-pitch fastball and lost—he swung too soon on a slider. Two pitches later, Johnson was walking back to the dugout. Next, Jarrod Dyson saw three fastballs in the high nineties, followed by two sliders—the second one caught Dyson looking. By this time Lough had stolen second base and with first open, the Braves decided to walk Alex Gordon. Alcides Escobar swung at the first pitch he saw—a 97-MPH fastball—and hit fly ball to end the game.

The odds weren’t good from the beginning; let the other team get the ball to their closer and you’re fighting an uphill battle. Going into this game the Royals were 3-35 when trailing after eight innings; now they’re 3-36.

Braves win 4-3.

Game notes

*Ervin Santana threw six innings and gave up three runs, all in the fifth. After listening to Wade Davis talk about exertion and how it affects starting pitchers, (read Monday’s post "A Conversation with Wade Davis" if you want to know what he said) I was aware that Santana wasn’t giving up any runs in the first four innings, but he wasn’t having an easy time of it either. He never threw more than 20 pitches in any of those first four innings, but he also didn’t have any single-digit innings. Santana struck out seven and striking hitters out is more work than getting one or two-pitch groundouts.

*Alex Gordon singled in the bottom of the first and moved to second on a wild pickoff throw. At that point Alcides Escobar bunted Gordon over to third. As I’ve pointed out before, that may or may not be Ned Yost’s call. With a runner on second and nobody out, a hitter can get one of several signs: bunt the runner over, try to drive him in or move him any way you can. In the past Escobar has shown a proclivity for bunting in that situation; if it’s a good enough bunt he gets a hit, if not, he probably gets a sacrifice.

With one down Eric Hosmer hit the ball to third and Alex broke for home. After the game I asked Ned if that was a contact play—the runner breaks for home on contact—but Ned said no; Alex just got a little overexcited and broke for home at the wrong time. (A groundball hit up the middle will generally score the runner, a groundball hit down a line generally won’t—it’s a shorter throw.)

Gordon got in a rundown long enough for Hosmer to get to second base which was good; Hosmer scored on a Billy Butler single—but not without some more base running problems. Braves catcher Brian McCann deked (stood at the plate pretending no throw was coming) and Hosmer came in standing up. The play was closer than Hosmer expected. The fault may not have been entirely Hosmer’s: the on-deck hitter is supposed to get behind home plate and tell the runner what to do. The runner has his back to the field and can’t see what’s happening. It appeared on-deck hitter Salvador Perez never moved up on the plate or gave a signal to slide.

*In the second inning it appeared McCann tried to ambush Santana: Ervin was throwing a lot of first-pitch fastballs and McCann jumped on one. When the first-pitch fastball ambush doesn’t work, it can screw up the rest of an inning. To make sure Santana had to work a bit, both B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla took a called first strike. A hitter can have a bad at-bat because of what some other hitter did with his at-bat.

In the bottom of the inning the Royals did the same thing: Mike Moustakas made an out on the first pitch and David Lough took a called strike to extend the inning.

*With the Royals up 1-0 in the top of the fourth, Justin Upton doubled. In Monday’s post Wade Davis talked about how much energy it takes to keep a run from scoring in that situation: a pitcher has to reach back and find his best stuff to keep a run from crossing the plate. It took 19 pitches and two outstanding defensive plays—one from Alex Gordon and another from Alcides Escobar—but Upton only made it as far as third base when the inning ended. Wade Davis also talked about how exerting the energy to keep a run from scoring in one inning can cause multiple runs to score in another. After Ervin Santana kept a leadoff double from scoring in the fourth, he gave up four straight hits and three runs in the fifth.

Now take a look at Braves pitcher Kris Medlen: in the top of the fourth he prevented a runner in scoring position from crossing the plate, but took 24 pitches to do it. One inning later he gave up a two-run bomb to Eric Hosmer—looks like Wade Davis might know what he’s talking about.

*In the fifth inning the Braves turned two possible bunts into two base hits: Chris Johnson led things off with a double and Andrelton Simmons tried to bunt him over to third, but bunted the ball foul twice. Mike Moustakas was still playing in at third—I assume they thought Simmons was still bunting with two strikes—but Simmons slashed the ball past Moose. Then leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer shot a ball past Eric Hosmer when he was playing in for the bunt. If you never bunt, they never play in.

*Salvador Perez started off the sixth inning by working himself into to 3-1 count and then singling up the middle. Two pitches later Kris Medlen was out of the inning: Mike Moustakas swung at the first pitch and so did David Lough. Veteran ballplayers will tell you there’s nothing wrong with swinging at the first pitch—if it’s the right situation and you get the pitch you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’re just making things easy on the pitcher.

*Tim Collins threw Jason Heyward three curves and hung the third one—the ball left the yard and the Braves were ahead to stay.

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