Judging the Royals

What went wrong in the seventh inning

Updated: 2013-08-15T02:47:46Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

Wednesday afternoon Elliot Johnson let a ball go through his legs. Unfortunately, the tying run was on second base at the time. Here’s what happened: Ervin Santana started the game, threw six innings and gave up one run. The Royals had eked at two runs of their own and then the game went to the bullpen with KC ahead 2-1.

Tim Collins came out for the seventh, ran the count to 3-2 on leadoff hitter Koyie Hill and, not wanting to walk the tying run, threw Hill a fastball. Hill doubled. Christian Yelich then hit what Johnson described as a "classic squibber"—a ball with side spin. After the game Elliot said he should have moved forward and attacked the ball, but instead let the ball play him. The last bounce stayed down and moved sideways and Elliot missed it. After the game he stood in the clubhouse and "wore it": he put on a ball cap looked into the cameras and said he screwed up. Johnson said that if he had made the play, the Royals would have won.

Had everything stayed the same—and we don’t know that for sure—the Royals would have escaped the seventh with their one-run lead intact and that might have changed who pitched the eighth and ninth. As it was, Luke Hochevar came out, had a 1-2-3 eighth and then gave up a couple runs in the ninth.

The Royals lose to the Marlins, 5-2.

Game notes

• After Johnson’s error the Marlins had runners on second and third with nobody down. Ned Yost kept the infield back. Ned was willing to concede one run on an infield groundout, but not two runs. He didn’t want a grounder shooting through a drawn-in infield which would allow the runner on second to score. Donovan Solano hit the ball to second base and Chris Getz took the out at first.

Infield positioning determines where the throw goes: if the infield is in, the throw goes home if at all possible—if the infield is back, you take the out at first. Once the first run scored and there was only one runner in scoring position—Yelich had moved up to third on the Getz play—Ned brought the infield in. Logan Morrison hit a ball to Eric Hosmer, but hit it so softly there was no play at the plate. The Marlins scored two, took the lead and then tacked on two more runs in the ninth.

• The Marlins scored their first run in the top of the fourth; a 32-pitch pitch marathon. Ervin Santana gave up three singles and a walk, but only gave up one run in the process. What may have gone unnoticed was the previous half inning: the Royals saw a total of five pitches. Billy Butler saw two, Alex Gordon saw two and Salvador Perez swung at the first thing he saw. Some ballplayers would say that somewhere in there someone needs to give up an at-bat—see a few pitches, then battle with two strikes—so the starting pitcher can recover.

Once you get into the bullpen it’s not as important. Relief pitchers are often going one inning or less.

• You might also question Alcides Escobar’s first inning at-bat. With two outs and Alex Gordon in scoring position, Esky swung at the first pitch he saw; a curve. That might be OK if you’re looking for it, but most of the time a hitter isn’t looking first-pitch curve. And if you’re not looking for it, you don’t have a great chance of hitting it. Esky flew out to centerfield.

• Jeff Montgomery has talked about throwing a first-pitch curve to the better hitters; he was confident that they wouldn’t swing because they weren’t looking for it. But he also said a bad hitter might take a hack and hit it 400 feet. The bad hitter has no game plan, he’s just hacking.

• In the second inning with Jarrod Dyson on second base and David Lough on first, the Marlins catcher stepped out in front of home plate and gave a series of signs. He was letting the defense know where he planned to throw the ball if both runners took off. No point in having two bases covered when the catcher can only throw to one.

Over the weekend fans saw Shane Victorino take off for third base and Mike Moustakas never covered. That was because the throw was supposed to go to second base, but the runner on first—Dustin Pedroia—stayed put. Probably smart: the catcher’s best shot is often the trail runner. The guy on first base gets a worse jump because he has to wait until he’s sure the guy on second is really stealing third.

• In the top of the fourth with a runner on second, Chris Getz laid out for a ball up the middle even though he would have no play had he caught it. The point was not to get the batter at first, the point was to knock the ball down and keep it on the infield—that would have stopped the runner on second from scoring.

Catchers even have a sign for this: they’ll step out in front of home plate and make a downward motion with both hands, reminding the infielders to knock the ball down if possible.

• The Royals now head to Detroit for a pivotal five-game series. Unfortunately they let the Marlins get away with winning the series and now have to face the Tigers with injuries to Miguel Tejada, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Ned Yost said he hoped Moustakas would be available to pinch-hit by Saturday.

Jamey Carroll

Ballplayers will tell you: it’s one thing to get to the big leagues, another thing to stay. After watching players come and go, I’ve become much more impressed with anyone who sneaks in 10 years in the big leagues.

Jamey Carroll has snuck in 10 years.

Wednesday morning we talked about Tuesday night. I wanted to know about the play Carroll made on Donovan Solano; a diving stop to Jamey’s left. Jamey said he actually took a wrong step on that play right before the ball was hit—a step to his right. Carroll said he can usually see the catcher’s signs so he knows if the pitch will be a fastball or off-speed and he can always see where the catcher sets up.

The variable can be the pitcher; will he hit the target? If it’s a young guy who struggles with command, Jamey may not be able to shade one way or another; nobody is exactly sure where the ball is going. If it’s a veteran, known for control, you can count on him hitting his spots—most of the time. Just to make things more complicated a guy might be hitting his spots for two innings, lose it for a couple more, and then get it back in the next inning. Carroll has to pay attention or he’ll be caught out of position.

And generally speaking, diving stops are not a good sign—much better to be standing in the right spot to begin with. That means Jamey positioned himself correctly and the pitcher executed the pitch.

But back to the Solano play; the pitch was a slider and Jamey thought the ball would be pulled to his right—that’s why he took a step that way. And that’s why we saw him dive; the step to his right pulled him slightly out of position. Although…Jamey said he tries to position himself so balls are hit to his left. That way he’s fielding them as moves toward first. Play the ball to the right—his backhand side—and he may be in better throwing position because his feet are already set up, but he also has a longer throw.

Carroll then brought up the play where he double pumped and failed to get the batter going down the line. Jamey thought it was going to be a bang-bang play, caught the ball, spun and came out of the spin with his feet not quite set. Eric Hosmer was still moving toward first base and Jamey thought if he let the ball go something bad was going to happen—better to hold onto it, try to get straightened out and then make the throw. That’s actually kind of a veteran move: young players will sometimes panic, try to force the play and throw the ball away. Carroll didn’t want to turn the play into an infield single, but that’s still better than throwing the ball away and having the runner wind up on second.

The conversation turned to hitting and I asked if there was pressure coming over to a new team; do you want to get some hits and show everybody that bringing you on was a good move? Carroll said there shouldn’t be—the Royals have played against him for a long time and have a good idea of what kind of player he is—but he said, yeah, there’s still pressure. He was happy for Justin Maxwell; when Justin had a couple big hits right away Jamey thought: "That’s the way to start."

When he’s scuffling at the plate, Jamey’s had to learn to be analytical about it: is the pitcher getting him out or is Jamey getting himself out? The worst thing you can do is take an 0-fer and immediately start changing your hitting mechanics. If you can’t hit a pitch maybe the simple solution is to stop swinging at it.

I’ve said this before, but I my job gets easier when I find players who have been around a while, like to talk about the game and don’t mind talking about it with me. If our first talk was any indication, Jamey Carroll is going to make my job easier.

Foul tips off the mask

I did some catching (very little) and know what it’s like to take a foul tip off the mask—it can rock your world. Clint Hurdle once said "it’ll rearrange your furniture." The mask protects you to a degree, but it’s like someone put a pillow over your face and then punched the hell out of it—you don’t feel the sharp impact of the fist, but your head still gets driven back.

Apparently, foul tips off the jaw are worse than fall tips off the helmet. Like a boxer taking one off the chin the jaw gets driven back and does some weird things to your brain. The shots Salvador Perez took to his chin were probably worse than the ones he’s taken to the top of his head. Tuesday night George Kottaras took two shots off the mask and admitted to being a little cloudy for a moment, but seemed to shake it off. When you see a catcher take a foul tip off the mask, the lower it is on the mask, the worse the shock. I don’t know how this information helps you, but now you know.

BTW: Bruce Chen had a terrific outing Monday—no runs, seven innings pitched—don’t forget to give Kottaras some of the credit. Anytime a pitcher does well, remember, he had some help.

 

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