The series opener between the Royals and the Athletics turned out to be a classic pitching duel between Jeremy Guthrie and Sonny Gray. Both pitchers were sharp from the start; each threw four scoreless innings to open the game. Both Gray and Guthrie did a good job of stifling their opponent’s offense by being aggressive, staying ahead in the count and forcing hitters into tough counts. It was a tightly contested, exciting game that was clearly going to be a low-scoring duel, decided by a small margin of error.
Ask the people that know and they’ll tell you that if a pitcher wants to go deep in a game, he shouldn’t just avoid walks; he should also avoid 3-ball counts. Thursday night Yordano Ventura faced 31 batters and only four of them reached a three ball count. That’s one of the reasons Ventura was able to go seven innings on 103 pitches.
Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes pitched five innings, gave up three hits and no runs. In the sixth inning, Hughes gave up four hits — three of them doubles — and three runs. So what happened? How could a pitcher be so dominant for five innings, then get whacked all over the yard in the sixth? Probably because it was the third time through the order.
After the game, Ned Yost said it was not a steal situation. Twins closer Glen Perkins is left-handed, so a runner has a very difficult time getting a jump. Once Perkins does go home, he only takes 1.1 seconds to get the ball there. The average is about 1.4 seconds, so Perkins is very quick to home plate — too quick for Dyson to steal.
In a four-game series Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana went 9 for 14 while hitting five—that’s right, five—home runs. So why did the Royals keep pitching to him? For the most part, they didn’t; not when it mattered.
A friend recently asked me how I covered games on TV and whether I found it frustrating; you don’t get to choose what you watch. I said there were advantages to live games—you can see infield and outfield positioning whenever you like—but there were also advantages to watching televised baseball.
If you’re a baseball fan you’ve probably already seen it. Cleveland outfielder Ryan Raburn spiking a ball into the ground on a throw from left field. Raburn’s throw allowed Mike Moustakas to circle the bases and that eventually sent the game to extra innings where the Royals beat the Indians 2-1 on Thursday night. What hasn’t gotten as much publicity is why Raburn spiked the ball.
Every day, the Royals provide official game notes to the people who cover the team, and here’s part of what Saturday’s game notes said: When the Royals lead after six innings, they’re 37-2. When they lead after seven, they’re 40-1. And when they lead after eight innings, the Royals are 44-1. Now let’s look at the other side. When the Royals trail after six innings, they’re 8-38. Trailing after seven, they’re 4-42. And when they trail after eight innings, they’re 2-44. So here’s the lesson: Make sure you have a lead after six innings. Saturday night they did.
In the fourth inning of the Royals’ 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians, Raul Ibanez hit a ball into the right-field corner and wound up with a triple. Alex Gordon was on first base at the time, so if Ibanez tripled, you know Gordon scored. That made the score 3-1, but Raul’s hustle to third base caused an error: he arrived at the same time as the throw from right, the baseball got away and Raul scored on an error.
Just before this game started I ate dinner with John Wathan. The former Royals manager said you should never think you’d seen it all; no matter how long you played, coached or watched, the game of baseball could still surprise you. Seven and a third innings later, Duke proved prophetic.
The other day, the Royals had a players-only clubhouse meeting, and since then they’ve won a couple games. So do clubhouse meetings make a difference? Like so many other questions, the answer to this is, "It depends."
In the second inning Bruce Chen threw a pitch in the mid-80s to Gordon Beckham and tied him up. When Bruce comes in on a right-handed hitter, he often does it with a cutter. So it’s not the velocity that messes up the righties, it’s the angle. The pitch just keeps boring in on their hands and they need to get the bat head out early to keep the ball off their knuckles. Get the hitters to start early and then a pitcher can throw off-speed. That can result in a swing and miss or easy pop-up.
Jeremy Guthrie threw six innings and gave three earned runs: that’s a quality start. The Royals bullpen supplied a quality finish; three scoreless innings from Aaron Crow, Scott Downs and Jason Frasor. Once again the Royals pitched well, but couldn’t come up with enough offense to make the pitching pay off. Kansas City has scored two runs in the last three games. They’ve already gotten one hitting coach replaced; at some point you need to look at the players.
With Jon Lester on the mound it doesn’t take a lot of runs to beat the Royals, so when the Red Sox went up 3-0 in the third inning, it felt like the game might be over. Let’s take a look at the Yordano Ventura curveball that changed the game.
When your offense doesn’t score it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching and defense; they have no room for error and that was the case in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Danny Duffy pitched six and two-thirds innings and gave up one earned run — seems like that ought to be good enough to win a ballgame.
When Tim Bogar was a coach for the Boston Red Sox he once told me the Sox didn’t care what the score was as long as they could get the starting pitcher out of the game after five innings. Friday night it took five and two-thirds, but they still got what they wanted: the Red Sox got a shot at middle relief and avoided the best relievers in the Royals pen—Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
A reader wanted to know if I ever had to be careful about what I write in order to maintain good relations with the ballplayers I cover. Well, let me explain it this way: anyone who says he can write everything he knows is either lying or doesn’t know very much.
Let’s see: Over 3,400 hits, over 1,900 runs, over 1,200 RBIs, over 350 stolen bases, over 1,000 walks, over 12,300 plate appearances, over 2,600 games, over 150 postseason games, Rookie of the Year, five Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star appearances, five World Series championship rings and some clown decides to yell "Overrated" while Derek Jeter is at the plate during this year’s All-Star game?
A while back I asked Royals closer Greg Holland how he feels about mound visits and since he’ll probably pitch in the All-Star game tonight, now seems like a good time to post this piece. What I wanted to know was if there was ever time in Greg’s life that he was standing on the pitching mound wishing someone would come out and make a visit. Most pitchers I’ve gotten to know hate mound visits; they’re trying to accomplish something and a mound visit just seems like an interruption of the process.
Tonight, Major League Baseball holds its Home Run Derby and participants will feel a lot of pressure to perform—and I’m not talking about the hitters. According to guys who have done it, throwing pitches to home run derby participants can be nerve-wracking. Tonight, all eyes will be on the guys swinging the bats, but don’t forget to watch the guys throwing the ball; there’s a lot of pressure and the hitters aren’t the only ones feeling it.