Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Ned Yost’s options were limited in Royals’ 4-1 loss to Twins

08/16/2014 11:15 PM

08/16/2014 11:50 PM

Apparently, neither Wade Davis nor Greg Holland was available for Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins, and that limited manager Ned Yost’s options. He sent starting pitcher Yordano Ventura back out for the seventh inning, but if the entire bullpen were rested, Kelvin Herrera might have been used instead.

But Herrera was being saved for the bottom of the ninth, and the Royals never made it that far. The game got away in the seventh inning.

Kurt Suzuki — a pain in the Royals’ … let’s say “side” — led off the seventh with a single. Chris Parmelee laid down a bunt, and Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas could not make a play. With Kansas City ahead 1-0 and runners on second and third, the Twins had Jordan Schafer lay down another bunt. That would put the tying run on third and the winning run on second.

Schafer missed on his first two attempts, and with the count 0-2 and no need to throw a strike, Ventura did. Instead of a fastball up out of the zone — an easy pitch to pop up — the fastball was in the zone and Schafer got the bunt down. Both runners advanced.

Danny Santana then hit a grounder to first baseman Billy Butler. Butler hesitated for a split second, then threw the ball to Salvador Perez. Catchers can no longer block the plate without the ball, so Sal was out in front of the plate and had to reach back to tag the sliding Suzuki. And it was a great slide: Kurt lifted his hand over Sal’s attempted tag and then brought it back down on the plate as he slid past.

The score was tied 1-1.

Next, Brian Dozier doubled and Eduardo Escobar, pinch-running for Parmelee, scored while Santana went first to third. Kennys Vargas hit a sacrifice fly, and Santana crossed the plate, giving the Twins a 3-1 lead. Suzuki would tack on a run with an eighth-inning homer, but the game was pretty much over by then.

Asked after the game why Ventura stayed in the game to face Vargas, Yost said he that he thought Ventura still was his best option at that point. If the right situation had presented itself, Jason Frasor was going to pitch the eighth, and Herrera would have closed the game. But without Davis and Holland available, Ned had to try to cobble together the seventh inning, and it didn’t work.

All season long, you’ve been hearing how the back end of the Royals’ bullpen changes the game and makes it easier for the Royals to win. This was what it looks like when Wade Davis and Greg Holland aren’t available.

The Twins beat the Royals 4-1.

Phil Hughes threw strikes

Pitchers who throw strikes don’t give you a lot of breathing room. If you take, you fall behind in the count. If you swing, but don’t get a hit, you let the pitcher have an easy inning.

In the first inning, Nori Aoki made an out in two pitches, Omar Infante made an out in one, Salvador Perez took two strikes, but Phil Hughes still got out of the inning in six pitches.

An inning like that helps a pitcher stay in the game, and Hughes made it through and seven and a third innings.

Ventura had trouble with his secondary pitches

With two outs in the sixth inning, the TV crew showed a graphic that said Yordano Ventura was throwing his fastball 88 percent of the time, his change-up 3 percent of the time and his curveball 9 percent of the time. So what pitch would you look for?

Ventura may have been forced into throwing so many fastballs because he was having trouble throwing his secondary pitches for strikes. By the seventh inning, hitters were seeing Ventura for the third and fourth times, so they had a good look at those fastballs and a chance to adjust.

By the way, you might take those change-up numbers with a grain of salt. MLB.com regularly misidentifies Ventura’s 90-mph change-up as a fastball. But if you go through the pitches with that in mind, Ventura still was throwing a bunch of fastballs.

The front-door cutter

Alcides Escobar made the last out of the third inning when he struck out looking. And he struck out looking because Phil Hughes threw him a “front-door” cutter. Here’s how that works:

The pitcher throws the cutter at the hitter’s hip. The hitter’s natural reaction is to move his rear end back, away from the plate and lift his arms — not a great hitting position. When the cutter’s movement carries the ball back into the strike zone, the hitter is in a lousy position to do anything about it.

A front-door breaking pitch is a favorite two-strike tactic of a lot of big-league pitchers.

Why Suzuki kept his mask on

The Twins catcher took a foul tip off his knee and went down on his hands and knees. He then limped out to the mound to buy some recovery time so the pain would go away. But during the whole episode, Suzuki never took his mask off.

Why?

Because he is a Jason Kendall protege. If you read the book “Throwback,” you already know this, but Kendall believes catchers who take their masks off and pose are part of the “Dig Me Tribe,” players who like attention and do things to get it.

Keeping your mask on is part of the Kendall Code. Do your job, and don’t call attention to yourself. Kurt Suzuki followed the code.

How umpires signal for a ‘timing play’

With two outs and two runners on in the top half of the inning, the home-plate umpire, Jim Reynolds, could be seen tapping his wrist. That is the signal umpires use to remind one another that they have to be aware of a “timing play.” That means if a runner scores and a trailing runner is thrown out on the bases, the umpires have to know whether the runner crossed home plate before the trailing runner was tagged out.

Holland made an adjustment

Friday night, Greg Holland came in to close the game and wound up walking Minnesota’s lead-off hitter, Kurt Suzuki. He did it on four straight balls, not one more than 95 mph. He then gave up a double to Oswaldo Arcia.

Somewhere in that second at-bat, Holland made an adjustment.

Greg has been following through by falling off the mound to the first-base side — and it’s been pretty dramatic. But after walking Suzuki on four pitches, Holland began to follow through without falling to his left. Catchers have a sign to remind pitchers to keep their momentum headed toward home plate. They make a “come toward me” sign with both hands.

I never saw Salvador Perez make that gesture, so it seems as though Holland made the adjustment on his own. After the Arcia double, Holly got the next three guys. So fans can watch his follow-though, see how he finishes and what the results are.

Why Suzuki had white fingernails

Friday night, I was watching the game with someone who wanted to know why Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki had white fingernails. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fashion statement.

Some pitchers have a hard time seeing the catcher’s signs, and painting the fingernails helps. Some catchers use Wite-Out, the same stuff we use to make corrections on paper documents. Some catchers stick their fingers in the chalk that is used to make the foul lines and batter’s boxes. Other catchers might use tape around the base of their fingers. (You can’t put it over the fingertips. You would have a hard time gripping the ball.)

I’m not sure how this changes your life, but next time you see a catcher with white fingernails, you’ll know why, and you can then bore someone else with the correct information.

Should Dyson have been drilled for his backflip?

A couple of games ago, Jarrod Dyson caught a fly ball for the final out of the game and did a backflip to celebrate. Old-school ballplayers see stuff like that, shake their heads and think how much the game has changed. Back in the day, Dyson’s celebration would have earned him a fastball in the ribs the next time he came to the plate. But the Oakland A’s did nothing.

It may or may not be meaningful, but a team that doesn’t retaliate sends a message to the other teams in the league: Do what you want, and we won’t do anything about it. A team that drills a guy also sends a message: You might beat us, but you’re not going to embarrass us.

Maybe that day is over, and guys celebrating singles and doing backflips is now acceptable. But if so, baseball has lost something. Knowing there was a code of behavior and knowing there were immediate consequences for violating that code had an upside. Guys behaved professionally. They didn’t have much choice. Jarrod Dyson doing a backflip and the Oakland A’s doing nothing about it makes both parties look bad.

Now I’ve got to go outside and yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

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