Judging the Royals

Danny Duffy is on; the Royals take game one

Updated: 2013-08-16T20:52:49Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

When Danny Duffy is on, he can match up with anybody. When Danny Duffy is erratic, he can be—in his own words—a "dumpster fire." Friday afternoon, Danny Duffy was on. One hit, no runs in six innings. In his last outing Danny struggled with the release point on his curve, in this outing he was pretty much a two-pitch pitcher, but Duffy’s fastball and changeup seemed to be enough.

In fact, the only hit Danny gave up came on a 3-1 fastball to Miguel Cabrera. There were two outs in the sixth when it happened; Danny then got Prince Fielder to end the inning and after 96 pitches, handed the ball to the Royals bullpen.

Kelvin Herrera had a 1-2-3 seventh. In the eighth, Aaron Crow did what he tends to do: struggle with a batter or two then settle down. Aaron gave up a home run to Ramon Santiago—which made the score 2-1 Kansas City—then got the next three hitters. Finally, with no margin for error, closer Greg Holland struck out Miguel Cabrera, walked Prince Fielder and then got Victor Martinez to ground into a game-ending double play. Holland picked up his 33rd save and his 26th in a row. The Royals pitching staff held the Tigers lineup to a single run, but it all started with Danny Duffy.

Kansas City beats Detroit, 2-1.

Game notes

• Crow’s home run pitch was intended to be a "back-foot slider." Santiago was hitting left-handed and lefties tend to like balls down and in. So a right-handed pitcher throws a pitch that looks like it’s headed for their happy zone, gets them to start the bat, and then the pitch drops down toward their back foot. But if the pitch stays up, you really have thrown a pitch in their happy zone.

• Just Verlander has the ability to add and subtract on his fastball and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Somehow the pitcher has to take velocity off and on without changing the level of effort he uses to throw the ball. If hitters see the body slow down they’ll know what’s coming. Some pitchers change their grip—they might bury the ball in the palm of their hand for less velocity, then have it out on the fingertips when they want a little more—but whatever a pitcher does it has to look the same every time.

• In the first inning Duffy got a double play ball, then faced Miguel Cabrera with nobody on. That’s exactly what you want to do: isolate the better hitters. Look at Thursday night: if Jeremy Guthrie had gotten Andy Dirks in the first inning, Prince Fielder’s home run is a solo shot. Get Brayan Pena and Andy Dirks in the fifth, and the singles Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera hit don’t hurt you. When a big hitter is due up, getting the guy in front of him might be more important than getting the All-Star—and you sure as heck have a better chance of making that happen.

• Radio announcer Denny Matthews noticed a 12-foot strip of sand in the area around first base. Detroit might have had their grounds crew dump it there to make sure the Royals had trouble with the footing. KC stole three bases Thursday night and it wouldn’t surprise anybody if the sand was put there to slow the Royals down on Friday afternoon. Denny said the sand was pretty obvious, but that may have been the point: use it to scare the Royals off the stolen base.

• The trick may have worked: Justin Maxwell got picked off when he had a hard time getting back to first base. The sand might have had something to do with it.

• Comerica Park’s dimensions are 345 feet down the left field line, 376 in left center, 420 in dead center, 365 in right center and 330 feet down the right field line. Those dimensions are a little deceptive; like most parks the wall in Comerica takes a right angle at the foul poles and stays fairly shallow. In Kauffman the wall drops off immediately. Comerica is 420 in center—even deeper than the K—so pitchers can use that area to their advantage; fly balls—as long as they’re hit to centerfield—can get you an easy out. A fly ball hit directly down the line can get you an early shower.

• Eric Hosmer hit a home run to the opposite field and there were two things about that worth noting: pitchers try to stay away from guys with home run power, so hitters strong enough to take a pitch on the outer half of the plate out of the park to the opposite field are special. They can overcome a pitcher’s main tactic for avoiding the long ball.

The second thing worth noting about Hosmer’s home run is the pitch was a curveball. Hosmer didn’t pull it: he waited and hit it the other way—another skill a lot of hitters do not possess.

A reader’s comment

Lee, I'm really bothered by the new instant replay decision by mlb. THREE CHALLENGES PER TEAM?????? So the length of a baseball game goes to 4 hours. Just what the average fan has been clamoring for! All the phantom swipe tags. Ball beating runner to base (usually an automatic out). These are all going to be challenged? Watch the injuries increase.  I'm sorry, but I've always believed in the human element in baseball, things have a way of evening out. WE DON' T NEED REPLAY!!!!! Your opinion??  

My response

Well, here goes: I think the technology that makes this possible is also the technology that makes it necessary. Before they had so many cameras at ballgames, we weren’t as sure that umpires were missing calls. (And it’s still amazing how many calls they get right.) But now that we can look at three angles in super slo-mo, we can see that some calls are wrong and it bothers people to ignore the evidence that a call was missed.

Trust me; I’m in favor of moving games along. When you’re not being paid to watch, you can turn off a game that gets boring—I can’t. So I’m caught between getting the calls right and speeding up the game. But once you start letting people challenge calls, where do you stop?

Why three? Why not four? Or two? Or five? If the point is getting the call right, what if the umpires get four crucial calls wrong? (It probably means you need new umpires.) Whatever they do, someone will be unsatisfied.

I know I am.

Back in the good old days

(He’s now gone, but this seemed like a good time to run a piece I wrote weeks ago with insight provided by Elliot Johnson.)

Elliot Johnson and I were watching game video of pitcher Erik Bedard when Elliot Johnson appeared on the screen. Elliot Johnson, watching Elliot Johnson said in his best announcer’s voice, "Here’s a young, over-matched Elliot Johnson."

I asked Elliot what pitch he could expect Bedard to throw to start an at-bat and he said he had no idea; the good guys mix it up. Look at what pitch a guy throws in a 1-1 count and you might see fastball 33% of the time, breaking ball 33% of the time and changeup 33% of the time. (I don’t know what the pitcher throws that other 1% of the time.)

Elliot said that in the old days guys were more predictable. First pitch: here’s my best fastball, see if you can hit. You didn’t hit that one? Here’s another. Fouled that one off? OK, now you get the slider—if you didn’t hit my fastball it’s your fault. These days that’s considered high-school level pitching. Guys are throwing any pitch in any count. And once they show you they’re willing to throw something other than a fastball in a fastball count, they can get away with throwing a fastball in a fastball count because you have to worry about more than one pitch.

Fastballs in fastball counts: no wonder hitters call them the good old days.

Game two

OK, this one went quickly so it looks like I’m posting twice today. I’ll try to get the second game story posted late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

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