Judging the Royals

Wade Davis had a plan

Updated: 2013-07-28T04:27:47Z


The Kansas City Star

If you throw hard and have good movement on your pitches, you have great stuff. If you don’t quite know where those pitches are going, you struggle with command. Wade Davis has shown great stuff, but has also struggled with command. People have questioned whether Davis should remain in the rotation and this start was seen as pivotal: could Wade find a way to harness his stuff and remain a part of the starting rotation?

In the first inning of Saturday night’s game against the White Sox, Wade threw 18 pitches and 17 of those pitches were fastballs. In fact, the first time through the White Sox order Davis threw 32 pitches total and 28 of those pitches were fastballs. That was part of the plan: be more aggressive in the strike zone, establish the fastball, get ahead in the count, get the White Sox looking for the heater and then the off-speed stuff would be more effective. Davis also wanted to simplify his approach, pick up his tempo between pitches, attack the zone and get some early swings out of the Chicago hitters.

The plan worked.

Davis threw what was probably his best game of the year: seven and a third innings, no runs. The Royals are now one game under .500 with a chance to sweep the Sox on Sunday. The Royals win a wild one, 1-0.

A wild ninth inning

It’s hard to talk about this game without talking about the wild ninth inning. Closer Greg Holland gave up a single to Alex Rios and a walk to Adam Dunn and that brought Paul Konerko to the plate. Konerko hit a slow roller and, in a double play situation, that’s a middle infielder’s worst nightmare. It means the runner on first base will have time to get down to second base and knock the hell out the pivot man.

In this case the runner was Adam Dunn and the pivot man was Chris Getz. It was mismatch: if they were boxers, Dunn would never be allowed in the ring with Getz. Chris hung in, attempted to turn two and got crushed. Dunn hit him before Chris could get up off the ground, but it was still a clean play. Dunn hit Getz low, not further up the leg, which is considered a dirty play. The Royals got one out and had runners on first and third.

Then Jeff Keppinger hit a sinking line drive to David Lough. The Royals right fielder came in and dove for the ball, caught it and I think everyone watching assumed the game was tied—no way for Lough to get up in time to throw out a runner tagging at third.

Except the runner didn’t tag at third.

Alex Rios brain-cramped and came down the line when the ball was hit. The only time a base runner is not supposed to go back and tag third with less than two down and a ball hit in the air, is when the runner doesn’t believe he can score even if the ball is caught, but that usually applies to pop-ups on or near the infield. Rios’ mistake gave the Royals the break they needed and Holland struck out Conor Gillaspie to end the game. The final pitch was a slider in the dirt and Salvador Perez blocked it. It appeared that the Royals were determined to make the necessary plays: Getz standing in on a double play when he knew he was going to get hammered, Lough making a do-or-die catch to save the game, Perez keeping the final pitch in front of him so he wouldn’t have to make a throw to first and possibly allow the tying run to score.

Games like this can bring a team together.

Game notes

First inning: Alex Gordon took one pitch and Eric Hosmer took none. Billy Butler then took a couple and Salvador Perez took a couple more. The difference in approaches might have been because the first two hitters are left-handed and the second two are right-handed. With lefty Chris Sale on the mound, a left-handed hitter can get in trouble if he falls behind and lets Sale get to his slider.

I’ve written a lot about fastballs in fastball counts and Sale showed you can get away with it if you hit your spots. Billy Butler got a fastball 2-0 and 2-1, but both were perfectly placed on the outer half of the plate, so Billy took them. Sale then tried a 2-2 slider to Billy, but for that to work a breaking pitch has to start out of the zone and break into it, or start in the zone and break out of it. The 2-2 slider was never in the zone; Billy wasn’t tempted and eventually walked.

In the bottom of the inning Adam Dunn came to the plate with Alex Rios on base. If you read the June 24th interview we had with Wade, you know he’s very careful when he pitches to Dunn—make a mistake and he’ll hit it 500 feet. Wade went 3-0 on Dunn but never gave him a cookie (a fastball in the heart of the zone). Wade continued to pitch him carefully, made a couple perfect pitches on the black and eventually struck Dunn out on a curve.

Alex Rios didn’t help Dunn’s situation by stealing second: with first open, Davis had no reason to give Dunn anything to hit. The one bad thing that walking Dunn would produce had already happened; a runner in scoring position.

Second inning: In that earlier interview Davis said he struggled with White Sox hitter Jeff Keppinger. Lots of the Sox are big swingers and those guys can have more holes in their swings; a guy who just wants to put the ball in play can be a tougher out. Keppinger didn’t get a hit in this game, but still proved to be a tough out: Alcides Escobar robbed him with a spinning 360 play up the middle in the second and it took two more spectacular plays—Lorenzo Cain’s catch that required a face-plant into the centerfield wall in the seventh and Lough’s diving catch in the ninth.

Davis got through the second inning in five pitches and a quick inning like that can buy a pitcher an extra inning at the back end of his outing. The five-pitch second inning was one of the reasons Davis was still on the mound in the eighth.

Third inning: Davis had two outs, a 3-2 count on Alejandro De Aza and then threw him a curve for ball four. De Aza has never had a hit off Davis so you might think Wade should challenge him with a fastball—that was my first thought as well. But Wade’s a pretty smart guy and may have had a reason for throwing that pitch right there; no way to know without talking to him.

Fourth inning: When Billy Butler had a 2-1 count in the first inning, Chris Sale threw him a fastball on the outer half, which Billy took for a strike. Smart hitters pay attention to that kind of stuff so I wondered if Billy would look fastball away when he found himself in another 2-1 count. Apparently smart pitchers also pay attention: Sale threw Butler a slider for a called strike. Billy wound up getting a hit anyway.

In the bottom of the inning, Davis was pitching to Adam Dunn when Dunn called time and stepped out at the last second. Veteran hitters will sometimes do that when a pitcher’s on a roll. The idea is to irritate the pitcher, get him thinking about something else and upset his focus. When a hitter steps out at the last second, pay attention to what happens next.

What happened next in this case was Davis walking Dunn. But Wade has said he’d as soon walk Dunn as give him something to hit and if he does walk Dunn he’ll try to get a double play out of Paul Konerko—which is exactly what happened.

Fifth inning: Chris Getz was credited with a sacrifice bunt when he moved Miguel Tejada from first to second—and that was probably bad scorekeeping. There was one out when Getz put down the bunt; an unlikely time to sacrifice. Getz was probably bunting for a hit.

Sixth inning: With Eric Hosmer on first base, Billy Butler hit a ball down the right field line. Hosmer did not go first to third and probably should have. Alex Rios is right-handed and moving to his left so the throw back to the infield wouldn’t be a strong one. Salvador Perez hit what should have been a sacrifice fly to centerfield, but since Hosmer wasn’t on third base, Sal’s fly ball just moved him up 90 feet. Hosmer’s failure to go first to third was covered by a teammate when Lorenzo Cain doubled and drove him in for the Royals only run.

Bottom of the sixth: With De Aza on first base Adam Dunn hit a squibbed a ball out in front of home plate. Davis and Perez went after it, Sal picked it up and his throw to first base hit Dunn in the back and rolled into foul territory while De Aza raced to third. Fortunately, second baseman Chris Getz was doing his job: backing up the play. Otherwise, with two outs, De Aza probably would have made the turn for home while Eric Hosmer had to chase after the ball.

Seventh inning: Back to Cain’s catch on Keppinger: the Royals played outstanding defense all night. Cain, Lough, Escobar, Getz and Perez all made plays that mattered. When you think of a player, don’t just think of his offense—the pros don’t think that way: a guy can put runs on the board or keep them off the board and it’s all the same to them. If Lorenzo Cain can save runs on defense he doesn’t have to do as much on offense to still be a productive ball player.

After Cain’s catch Perez and Getz combined on a play to throw out pinch runner Blake Tekotte. Perez made a good throw and Getz made a good tag. Chris straddled second base which is faster than coming out in front of the bag, catching the ball and turning around to tag the runner. Some middle infielders come out in front because they want to avoid contact with the guy sliding into second.

Eighth inning: Ned Yost pulled Wade Davis after the tying run got on base and the winning run was at the plate. Ned has explained that he doesn’t want to let a starter pitch well and then have a chance to lose late in the game. On the other hand, Wade was dealing, had thrown 101 pitches and had Alexei Ramirez at the plate. At that point Ramirez was 3-16 lifetime off Wade and was hitless on the night.

But Louis Coleman came in and got a double play ball to end the inning, so Ned’s decision worked out. (Ramirez was 0-5 off Coleman in the past, so maybe Ned knew what he was doing.)

100 games in

Friday night was the Royals 100th game of the 2013 season. After 100 games their record stood at 49-51, not great but better than last year when their record after 100 games was 41-59. Or 2011 when their record was 42-58. Or the year before that when their record was also 42-58. Or the year before that when their record was 40-60.

If you’re looking for some kind of progress, there it is.

(I got those numbers off the TV, so thanks to the guys at Fox.)

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