One of the first things they teach a pitcher is what he does when a ball is hit to his left: he breaks to cover first base. Not some times, not when he thinks he needs to—he has to do it every time. Do it 999 times and the one time you don’t do it? Baseball will find a way to punish you.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
In the bottom of the eighth inning with two down, Eric Hosmer on first base and Billy Butler at the plate; Billy hit the ball to the pitcher’s left. The pitcher was Nationals reliever, Craig Stammen. The Royals caught a break when Stammen did the one thing he couldn’t afford to do: he didn’t break for first base. He watched the play develop, then broke for first—too late. Adam LaRoche bobbled Butler’s groundball, picked it up and looked to flip it to Stammen for the third out of the inning.
But Stammen wasn’t there.
The Royals caught a break, Billy Butler was safe and the inning continued. Next, Stammen walked Mike Moustakas to load the bases. Eric Hosmer was now on third base, Billy was on second and Moose was on first. Salvador Perez came to the plate in a tie game, still two outs in the bottom of the eighth. Get a hit and the Royals probably win—closer Greg Holland would come in and slam the door—make an out and the future would be much less certain.
Perez hit a groundball to the Nationals shortstop, Ian Desmond. Desmond bobbled the ball, realized he probably had no play at first and went to third base to force Butler—but Billy beat the throw. Afterwards Butler said he saw the play develop and thought there might be a play at third base, so he was digging for all he was worth. Billy beating the throw allowed Hosmer to score. Sal’s infield single—originally scored a fielder’s choice—broke up the tie and brought David Lough to the plate. Lough singled, tacked on an insurance run, and the inning ended when Mike Moustakas tried to score from second base and was thrown out at the plate. The Royals went into the ninth with a two-run lead and Greg Holland came in to pick up his 35th save.
Give credit to the Royals for rallying in the eighth inning, breaking their losing streak and staying above .500—but it all started with Craig Stammen’s mistake.
Royals 6, Nationals 4.
*I didn’t get to talk to third base coach Eddie Rodriguez after the game, but I can probably tell you why he sent Mike Moustakas home in the eighth inning. The Royals had two outs at the time and if Eddie holds up Moose you’re looking to pick up yet another two-out hit.
The on-deck hitter was Alcides Escobar and even though Esky has done well against Stammen in the past, the Royals shortstop hasn’t been crushing the ball lately. Ned Yost wasn’t going to pinch hit for his shortstop once he already has a lead—it would weaken his defense in the top of the ninth—so Eddie probably figured it was better to put pressure on the defense; make them make a play at the plate. They did and the inning was over.
*In the bottom of the first Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez homered, but the second run of the inning was scored by Emilio Bonifacio and he scored it from first base—on a single. The Royals had a hit and run on and Eric Hosmer was at the plate. His groundball ate up shortstop Ian Desmond and Bonifacio rounded second and headed for third. Centerfielder Denard Span did not pounce on the ball right away and third base coach Eddie Rodriguez sent Bonifacio home.
Guys who hustle put themselves in position to take advantage of any defensive mistake. Guys who loaf and then try to turn it on after they see a mistake can’t take advantage.
*Once in a while take your eyes off the ball and see if outfielders are moving into position to back up infield plays. Guys who stand there and watch will be late, guys who get going before they’re needed prevent runners from taking an extra 90 feet.
*In the second inning with Jarrod Dyson on first base and Alcides Escobar on second, Alex Gordon hit into a line drive, 3-6 double play—the first baseman caught the ball and then doubled Esky off second base. There was nobody out at the time and I asked Ned Yost if the Royals had a play on and he said no. Putting two runners in motion with nobody out is a great way to hit into a triple play. Ned said he’s done it once or twice with Billy Butler at the plate because Billy hits so many groundballs—it’s a way to stay out of a double play—but it still makes him nervous because of the triple play possibility.
*In the post-game press conference Ned said when teams get in bad streaks it usually includes the manager; every decision seems to backfire. In other words; managers have slumps, too.
*Alcides Escobar saved at least one run with a catch of a difficult pop up to end the third. Esky made the catch out in right center and if he didn’t get there, no one else would have. Mike Moustakas also started a spectacular 5-4-3 double play to end the fourth.
*In the fifth inning with two down, Denard Span on first and Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, Ryan got a 3-0 green light. He swung and hit a routine ball to second base to end the inning. That helped Ervin Santana because had Zimmerman walked, Bryce Harper would have got to hit with a runner in scoring position. When a guy swings 3-0 you want to see a drive, even if it’s an out. A routine 4-3 is not why you give a guy the green light.
*The Royals pulled off another hit and run in the fifth inning: Dyson broke for second and Bonifacio hit the ball through the hole on the right side. The middle infielders try to disguise who will cover the bag if the runner on first takes off. That way the hitter can’t take advantage of the hole created by sending the runner—but I’ve been told that nine times out of ten, the middle infielder standing closest to the bag is the one who’s going to cover.
*The seventh inning got away from Ervin Santana after he got the first two outs. Yost thought Ervin would get the third out, even after Santana gave up a home run to Denard Span. That made the score 4-2 and Ned still thought Ervin was in good shape. A single by Zimmerman and suddenly the tying run was at the plate—Bryce Harper.
Yost said Harper was going to be Ervin’s last hitter no matter what. Ned wasn’t going to let Ervin face the winning run and f Santana got Harper, Kelvin Herrera would pitch the eighth. Ervin didn’t get Harper; Harper got him. His 18th home run tied the game.
*In the post-game press conference Ned Yost was asked about the importance of staying over .500. Yost said it was huge. The first step to being a competitive team is playing winning baseball. The Royals need to show improvement; they need to convince fans that things are heading in the right direction. Staying over .500 would be a good first step.
Wade Davis the next morning
Saturday night Wade Davis pitched six innings and gave up seven earned runs. After the game Wade met with the media and was asked about his performance. Davis said he was inconsistent—his release point had been inconsistent and that led to inconsistent results. He also confessed to being upset about his performance and soon after, the post-game meeting with the media ended.
The next morning Wade was out on the field playing catch with James Shields. I sat in the dugout watching and after he finished playing catch, Wade came over and sat next to me. I started the conversation by saying how much it sucked to have to interview a ballplayer after a bad outing. The player is upset and we have to pour salt in the wound by asking him to explore and explain what went wrong. Wade admitted it sucked for him, too; but it’s part of the job. Good or bad, you have to talk about it. Sunday morning we did.
OK, so if Wade has been inconsistent with his release point, how does that get fixed? Repetition? Is it a matter of perfecting his mechanics?
Yes and no.
Davis thinks his mechanics break down when he tries to be "superman." When he tries to muscle up and throw the best curveball ever. Here’s an example: In the second inning of Saturday night’s game Wade struck out Tyler Moore on a curveball. Davis threw it nice and easy, got good break on the pitch and Moore missed it by a foot. In the fourth inning Davis threw Moore the same pitch, but Wade tried to make it nastier—he overthrew it. The pitch didn’t have as much break; Moore doubled, drove in a run and put himself and Adam LaRoche in scoring position. They both scored when Wade made a good pitch to Chad Tracy—a cutter in on his hands. Tracy was jammed, but the ball fell between shortstop Alcides Escobar and left fielder Alex Gordon.
Interestingly enough, Wade wasn’t upset about that; he made a good pitch to Tracy and got unlucky—Wade did what he could. But the curveball to Moore really bothered him; he threw a poor pitch and what happened was his fault, not bad luck.
Davis threw 28 pitches in the fourth inning and gave up four runs. He then came out for the fifth, threw six pitches and got the top of the Nationals order 1-2-3. So what was the difference? How do you struggle that badly in the fourth and look so good in the fifth?
He got himself under control—with the right mindset, it can be that easy.
The key is staying the same, no matter the situation. I asked if Ervin Santana—who seems unflappable—had an advantage because of his personality. Wade said Ervin had to learn that. Even Santana would get upset and overthrow and that’s part of how Ervin got himself into trouble last season. This year Ervin was determined to stay on an even keel no matter what and that seems to be working. And that’s what Wade wants to do; the pitches may have gotten whacked because he was inconsistent with his release point, but he was inconsistent with his release point because he was inconsistent with his emotions. Staying calm while the fans are screaming and the game and your career hang in the balance isn’t easy, but it’s what Wade Davis needs to do. Once a guy demonstrates he can do it—and Wade has been very good at times—then it’s a matter of doing it more often; it’s a matter of being consistent. Wade Davis knows what he has to do and he’s working on it.
The conversation drew to a close; Wade got up, popped me on the knee with his glove and walked off saying: "I’m 27, I’ll get better."
I don’t know what’s next for Wade Davis--but I wouldn’t bet against him.