Judging the Royals

Royals' offense gets back on track — maybe

Updated: 2013-08-27T13:53:27Z

By LEE JUDGE

The Kansas City Star

The game that started in May in a snowstorm ended in August and mid-90 degree heat. The Royals pounded the Rays 11-1 in make-up game in front of an announced crowd of 20,546. If you were there, you know more than 15,000 of those 20,546 people weren’t. That number reflects how many tickets were sold back in May. In August, most of those people found better things to do.

Too bad. The Royals pounded the Rays for 13 hits, four walks and 11 runs. Billy Butler and Salvador Perez went deep. In his post-game press conference, Ned Yost said the offense was back on track, but there’s a fairly strong relationship between poor pitching and good hitting — and vice versa. It’s amazing how all the bats come alive or go dead at the same time; the guy on the mound may have something to do with that.

Jeremy Guthrie picked up his 13th win, but had to grind through heat, humidity, 108 pitches and five innings to make it happen. In the fourth inning Guthrie had the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, but struck out ex-Royal David DeJesus to get out of the jam. It wasn’t easy, but he made it through five innings to get the win. Afterwards Jeremy was thanking Jarrod Dyson for running down some balls that looked like doubles off the bat.

The Royals are two games over .500 as they start a six-game road trip against two teams with losing records; Minnesota and Toronto. So far the Royals have shown they can beat anybody when they’re playing well and lose to anybody when they aren’t.

Monday the Royals played well and beat the Rays, 11-1.

Game notes

• Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson works sloooooooow — especially with runners on base. He was taking so much time between pitches that I put a stopwatch on him. It was taking 25 to 30 seconds to throw a pitch — and that was when Hellickson didn’t feel the need to go to the rosin bag of walk behind the mound to contemplate the meaning of existence. With nobody on, Hellickson was quicker but still taking close to 20 seconds between each pitch.

Working that slowly puts everybody to sleep, including a pitcher’s defense. I don’t know what other problems he may have as a pitcher, but Hellickson’s tempo ain’t helping.

• For comparison’s sake I timed Jeremy Guthrie and he was taking more like 10 or 11 seconds between pitches, unless he had a hitter like David DeJesus at the plate. DeJesus — like a lot of other hitters — steps out of the box between each pitch.

• In the second inning Matt Joyce singled on an infield popup to Guthrie. Here’s how that happened: The Royals were playing Eric Hosmer and second baseman Emilio Bonifacio deep. Joyce is left-handed and has 17 home runs — which indicates some pop — so Kansas City had the right side of its infield deeper than normal. Instead of smoking a grounder to Hosmer or Bonifacio, Joyce hit a pop a bit behind and to the right of the pitching mound.

If it’s directly above them, pitchers will stay under a pop up until they get run off by an infielder. The thinking is that pitchers aren’t out there all the time, so it’s better to have the play made by a guy who is. Guthrie drifted back under the ball, but was waiting to be called off. When Eric Hosmer realized nobody else was going to get to the ball — remember they were playing deep — he called for Guthrie to take it. Unfortunately, Jeremy thought he was being called off, moved out from under the ball and it fell in for a single.

• As long as we’re on the subject of fundamentals: in Sunday’s game Alcides Escobar got doubled off second base because he broke the wrong way on Alex Gordon’s line drive. I wanted to see the replay again before saying so, but I saw it and that’s what happened. Base runners need to start back to the bag on low line drives; Sunday Esky took a step toward the next base and that was enough to get caught in a double play.

• Jarrod Dyson was all over the field Monday; he caught a tweener that looked like it was going to drop in and went on to rob the Rays of at least three doubles. When managers make out their lineups they sometimes have to choose between offense and defense — the guys who provide both make life easy — but when you look at his offensive numbers, don’t forget the runs a player like Dyson keeps off the board with his glove.

• In his first at bat Alcides Escobar lined out to right field. I’m under the impression the Royals want Esky to hit the ball to the opposite field, but keep it low — no balls in the air. So it’s good he went to right, but the trajectory was bad.

Esky has been swinging at first pitches and some people have been burying him for doing so. Here’s the problem: when you’re not hitting, pitchers tend to come right after you — take a pitch and your situation gets even worse. But if you’re going to swing at a fastball right down the pipe — and that’s what happened in the fifth inning — you need to keep the ball out of the air. Esky flew out to center field in the fifth and pulled a fastball in the seventh. It’s not swinging at the first pitch that’s a problem; it’s not taking the right kind of swing that’s hurting him.

• In the third inning with two runners on and two outs, Jeremy Guthrie ran the count to 3-2 on Evan Longoria. Pitchers want to stay out of that situation because runners will get a head start and that can cost the pitcher a run. Better to force the action before the count is full.

• The Royals were not afraid to challenge Wil Myers' arm, and they got away with it at least three times. Myers also turned an Alex Gordon double into a triple when he let the ball get past him after it bounced off the wall. It hit the bottom of the one of those on-field scoreboards and balls come off harder if they hit the pad at the bottom instead of the chain link covering the scoreboard.

Myers also went 0-4 with two strikeouts, but one game isn’t particularly meaningful. Going 0-4 doesn’t make this winter’s trade a good one, just as going 4-4 wouldn’t have made it a bad one. It’s just one more day in a long season — even if the media would like to make more of it.

• In the fourth inning David DeJesus struck out looking with the bases loaded and probably had a gripe. The ball was a slider up in the zone and Salvador Perez snatched it back into the zone as he caught it. If Sal thought it was a strike, there’s no need to move the mitt after catching the ball.

But DeJesus probably should have been swinging at a borderline pitch with two strikes — don’t leave it to the umpire’s judgment. The other thing that says swing the bat was the pitch itself; an 84 mph slider. It wasn’t a 95 mph fastball; it was a breaking pitch that stayed up in the zone. Old ballplayers think young guys are crazy for taking pitches that are hittable — especially hanging breaking pitches.

• In the sixth inning the Rays had two outs, Alex Gordon on third and Billy Butler at the plate. Left-handed pitcher Cesar Ramos wasn’t going to screw around with Billy, so he intentionally walked Butler to get to the hitter on deck, left-handed Mike Moustakas. Moose then singled in Gordon, and then Salvador Perez hit a three-run bomb to make the score 10-1.

In the clubhouse afterward, I asked Mike if there were any special satisfaction in getting a hit after an intentional walk; the other team decided they wanted to face you and you made them pay for that decision. Mike said intentional walks were part of the game and he totally understood why the Rays would walk Billy to get the lefty-on-lefty matchup — him against Ramos. Then he grinned and said, yeah, it is pretty cool to screw up the other team’s strategy by coming through with a hit.

Things we don’t know

Saturday night Luke Hochevar threw three innings and then immediately went on maternity leave. The team knew his wife was about to give birth, she started having contractions Saturday afternoon. The contractions slowed so Hochevar came to the park, but it was clear things were moving along. Nobody has told me that this is what happened, but if the team knew his wife going to have a baby and Luke was going to be gone for a while, why not have him throw three innings and save the rest of the bullpen for the next day?

The thing to remember is that fans and reporters don’t know everything. A wife gives birth and that changes how long a guy pitches. We don’t know who’s hung over or feeling gimpy or a thousand other things that can effect a ballgame.

Let’s say you’ve got a left-handed hitter who tells you his hammie’s tight and he needs a day off. You sit him, but you don’t tell anyone about the hammie. You can send that guy out on deck with no intention of letting him hit and change the pitches the guy at the plate gets. If it’s a relief pitcher who’s scuffling, you can have him get up and move around the bullpen and keep a left-handed pinch hitter on the bench.

I’ve heard too many stories like this to think we know everything necessary to second-guess a manager — there are too many things we simply don’t know.

How to hang a slider

Yesterday Wade Davis talked about overthrowing a baseball and what happens when you do. This was written earlier in the week and it helps explain how fine the line is between a well-thrown pitch and one that’s going to get hit 400 feet.

Picture a baseball being thrown at you. The guy throwing it has two fingers on the side; if the baseball were the face of a clock, the fingers would be at about 11 o’clock. That guy is about to throw a good slider. It will come out hard and fast and then break down and sideways at the same time.

Now picture the same guy throwing the same pitch with fingers at about 10:30 on the face of the clock—that guy is about to hang a slider. The pitch will move laterally, but it won’t have much depth.

In the fourth inning of last Wednesday’s game against the White Sox, Jeremy Guthrie hung a slider to Dayan Viciedo. The bases were loaded and Vicideo hit the ball over 400 feet — a grand slam. The next day I wanted to know just how easy it is to hang a slider; how much difference is there between a good slider and a bad one?

Not much.

Luke Hochevar showed me the grip on a good slider; he then rotated his hand counter-clockwise maybe half an inch — at most — and there was a bad one. So why does that happen? How does the hand wind up on the side of the ball?

The grip always remains the same, but if a pitcher lets his lower half get out in front — if he decides to throw a really nasty slider and takes too big a stride — the arm does not catch up with the pitcher’s front foot. The arm has less time to get on top, doesn’t make it to the right slot and the ball is thrown from a lower arm angle. That puts the hand more on the side of the ball instead of the top and bang — you just hung a slider. So the pitcher has to battle against the idea that he’s going to make this slider nastier than the last one. Decide you need a really great slider against a guy like Adam Dunn, take too big a stride because you’re really going to crank this one and there’s a good chance you’ll throw a bad one. And guys like Adam Dunn know what to do with bad sliders. Guys like Adam Dunn make a living off pitchers who decide to throw them a really nasty slider.

You want to know how to hang a slider?

Try to throw a great one.

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