Judging the Royals

Don’t miss Greg Holland’s fastball

Updated: 2013-07-07T01:07:15Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Royals closer Greg Holland has three "plus" pitches. A plus pitch is a pitch that’s better than major league average; some guys are blessed with one, some guys two and few special people have three. Saturday afternoon Holland’s fastball was clocked at 97 miles an hour—at times it reaches 100.

There are two theories on Holland’s fastball: 1.) it rises 2.) it doesn’t really rise, it just stays up longer than most other fastballs—the expected dip in trajectory isn’t there. Pick either theory and you still get to the same point; Holland’s fastball has "late life." That means the batter is trying to hit a very good fastball.

And that’s the pitch you better not miss.

If you miss Holland’s fastball you allow him to get to his "secondary" pitches: a slider and a split-finger. The slider moves away from right-handed batters, the splitter moves away from lefties. So if a hitter allows Holland to get ahead in the count he’s got to deal with pitches up in the zone at 100 miles an hour and pitches down and in or down and away at something like 88.

Any wonder Holland struck out the side for his 20th save on Saturday?

Each Oakland A’s hitter—Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie and Eric Sogard—got at least one fastball to hit, but none of them hit one. Once Holland began to mix in the other pitches, their chances for success went way down. After the game Greg said any pitcher that gets ahead 0-1 will gain confidence and have a better chance of getting the hitter out, but right now, Greg Holland doesn’t look like just any pitcher. He’s not just getting people out—he’s blowing them away.

The Royals didn’t have a lead until the bottom of the eighth, but once they grabbed one and Holland came in to close the game, the Oakland A’s had very little chance—especially if they missed Greg Holland’s fastball.

Royals 4, Athletics 3.

Game notes

• I walked out of the stadium with ex-Royals manager John Wathan and said a couple dominate relievers at the backend of your bullpen must make a manager’s job a lot easier. Duke agreed and said it also make the opposing manager’s job a lot tougher; if he doesn’t have a lead after seven innings, he knows his team has little chance.

• In the first inning Alex Gordon hit a weak grounder back to the mound and A’s pitcher Jarrod Parker tried to pick it up several times before giving up on it. It was scored a hit for about one minute and then several members of the media questioned the call—it then became an error. Working in the press box is like working in a restaurant’s kitchen; when you see how things are actually done, you’re less impressed with the product.

• Ervin Santana walked A’s third baseman, Josh Donaldson in the second inning. When you see a walk it’s not always a case of a pitcher being unable to throw strikes—sometimes they’re working around a guy. At that point, Donaldson had 14 home runs and 55 RBIs; throw pitches on the black and if he swings, he swings; if he walks, he walks—that might be better than giving him something he can hit 400 feet. The wisdom of that policy was brought home in the sixth inning when Santana gave Donaldson a pitch to hit and he did—400 feet for his 16th home run.

• Donaldson also scored a run in the second, but Santana made the A’s work a lot harder for that one: Seth Smith and Josh Reddick had to single to bring Donaldson home. Jarrod Dyson tried to throw Donaldson out at the plate and his off-line throw allowed the trail runners to move up 90 feet and that took the double play out of order. Santana got out of it, but most baseball people will tell you that early in a game you limit the damage. If you’re not sure of throwing a runner out at the plate, hit the cutoff man and keep the double play in order. You can live with giving up one run in the second inning, but giving up three runs might beat you.

• The Royals old buddy, umpire Marty Foster (the guy who missed calls on both Chris Getz and Billy Butler and ejected them when they complained) may have missed another one on Elliot Johnson. A throw appeared to pull the first baseman off the bag and that would have allowed a run to score. Foster told Ned Yost that Brandon Moss kept his foot on the bag long enough to record the final out of the inning, so Miguel Tejada crossing home plate didn’t count. (Nice base running by Miggy though: he was on second with two outs and just kept running when the third baseman caught the ball and threw it to first. If there’s some kind of problem recording the final out, why stop at third?)

• The Royals had trouble recording the third out of the third inning and that gave the A’s an extra run, although it should have been two. With two outs and runners at first and second, Josh Donaldson hit a pop fly down the right-field line. Eric Hosmer, Miguel Tejada and David Lough converged on the ball. Lough was playing over in the gap because Donaldson is a pull hitter. That meant Lough had the longest run. In that situation, you want someone other than the first baseman making the play. He’s going straight back and the second baseman and right fielder have better angles on the ball. Any outfielder can call off any infielder and the guys in the middle can call off the guys in the corners. After the game Hosmer said he screwed up: he called the ball too soon and probably should have given way to Tejada.

Yoenis Cespedes was the runner on first and was just jogging around the bases, assuming the ball would be caught. Cespedes might have been able to score had he recognized it was going to be a tough play and the ball might drop. Lack of hustle may have cost the A’s a run and a game.

• In the bottom of the third Jarrod Dyson singled, stole second and took the changeup away from pitcher Jarrod Parker. Alex Gordon was at the plate and if he got a changeup in the zone, he’d probably pull the ball to the right side and that would move Dyson to third. After Dyson stole second base, Alex was getting fastballs away; a pitch he’d be more likely to hit to the left side which would freeze Dyson at second base. (A runner on second can advance on a 4-3, but has a harder time doing it on a 5-3 or 6-3.) Parker walked Gordon and that got him his changeup back. With runner on first and second Parker would be willing to trade a groundball that would advance Dyson as long as he got a double play out of the deal. Once the double play was back in order, Parker threw sliders and changeups to Hosmer and got a pop up to third.

• Eric Sogard made a bad choice in the seventh; he doubled and then tried to advance to third on a fly ball to Jarrod Dyson. It was a bad choice because Dyson was moving from center toward left to catch the ball and that meant he had a lot of momentum in the right direction when he threw the ball to Mike Moustakas at third base. Had Dyson been moving away from third base, Sogard would have made it.

• In the bottom of the eighth, Miguel Tejada was safe on an error and Alcides Escobar came out to pinch run for him. Esky stole second base. The second base umpire, Eric Cooper, held up two fingers and then pointed at his wrist. He was reminding the rest of the umpiring crew that they now had a "timing play" on their hands.

Here’s what that means: if the batter was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double, the umpires would need to know if Escobar had touched home plate before the out was recorded at second. (I’ve now exhausted about half the information I have about umpires.)

Here’s another tidbit of inside information: the Oakland’s shortstop snuck in behind Escobar, popped his fist in his glove and then went back to his position at short. All he was doing in that situation was trying to get Esky to take a step back toward second base—that might make a difference on a close play at the plate.

Why Tommy Milone didn’t throw changeups to lefties

Friday night Oakland’s starting pitcher, Tommy Milone, had a good changeup working, but never threw one to a left-handed hitter. Saturday morning I asked Royals pitcher Will Smith why. Turns out I was half-right: some pitcher’s changeups move down and in to lefties and that tends to be a left-handed hitter’s nitro zone.

Will said some pitchers do throw changeups to lefties (Will’s not one of them), as long as their changeups are straight. Jarrod Parker was throwing changeups to both lefties and righties in Saturday’s game, but he might have been sorry he did—Mike Moustakas hit one out of the park.

The story behind Jarrod Dyson’s catch

Friday night Jarrod Dyson made a highlight reel play on a Yoenis Cespedes fly ball to left-center field. Dyson ran a long way, jumped, caught the ball, and then crashed into the chain link covering the field-level scoreboard. Fans erupted in applause, but the most interesting reaction belonged to pitcher Wade Davis.

Davis refused to watch.

There are pitchers who absolutely refuse to give the hitter the satisfaction of standing there with their mouth open, watching a home run land in the stands. Those pitchers are basically saying to hell with it, give me another ball and let’s go. In this case, the ball came off Cespedes’ bat like a rocket and Davis put his head down and started walking toward the first-base line. Did he think it was a home run?

"I thought he hit it 700 feet."

Davis wasn’t watching the ball; he was watching Cespedes to see if he "pimped" the home run. "Pimping" a home run is putting on a show as the hitter makes his trip around the bases. It can be anything from standing at the plate too long, to an exaggerated bat flip or taking too much time jogging down to first. If a guy "pimps" a home run, the pitcher may make him pay for that at a future date. Even though he was not going to let someone else do it, Wade said that if he’d hit a ball like that he’d walk all the way to first base. So Wade was staring at Cespedes all the way.

Then Cespedes got a funny look on his face.

That’s when Wade turned and saw Dyson’s catch. Both hands shot in the air like Wade’s favorite team had scored a touchdown. Jarrod Dyson made a great catch and the most surprised guy in the park was the pitcher that threw the ball.

Two All-Stars

Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are going to the All-Star game. Congratulations to both of them.

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