Not every pitcher has every pitch every night, but that didn’t stop Soria from throwing change-ups in the eighth inning of what would become a 10-8 Royals loss at Oakland.
When a reliever comes into a game, the catcher will often wait for him on the mound. They might go over the sign sequence they’ll use with a runner on second base or the pitches that were working for the reliever during his bullpen warmup.
After the reliever throws his eight warmup pitches off the game mound, he and the catcher might have another talk. The pitcher might say his slider is good that night, let’s use it a lot; or he might say the change-up just isn’t there, let’s avoid it.
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If a pitch isn’t working, a reliever probably won’t be out there long enough to work on it; a lot of relievers will can the pitch and move on.
But on Tuesday night, Soria kept throwing his change-up even though it wasn’t a good one. He got the first four batters he faced into two-strike counts, but couldn’t finish them off with his putaway pitch; a change-up. All four batters got hits and all four batters got hits off two-strike change-ups.
It took Soria and catcher Drew Butera four batters to make the adjustment. After four straight hits on change-ups, Soria didn’t throw one to the fifth batter he faced and struck that batter out on a fastball.
But by then two runs were in, the Royals’ lead was cut to 8-6 and A’s had the tying runs on first and second base.
Mike Minor enters the game
Ned Yost brought in lefty Mike Minor to face lefty Bruce Maxwell and the A’s countered that move by pinch-hitting righty Chad Pinder. Minor punched out Pinder, but not before throwing a wild pitch that moved the runners to second and third.
With two outs and the tying runs in scoring position, Oakland’s manager Bob Melvin pinch hit for left-handed Boog Powell; right-handed Rajai Davis replaced him. Minor tried to get Davis to chase two pitches out of the zone and when that didn’t work, Davis was intentionally walked.
To get back in the count Minor would have to throw a 2-0 strike and, over his career, Davis has hit .349 and slugged .605 in 2-0 counts. First base was open and the Royals decided to put the go-ahead run on base and start over with lefty Matt Joyce.
Two pitches later Minor threw a 1-0 fastball on the outer half of the plate, Joyce hit it off the left-field wall and three runs scored; the A’s took the lead and never gave it back.
Afterwards, Minor said he thought it was a good pitch, but it was up.
Was it a good pitch? The hitters will let you know
During spring training Danny Duffy was asked two questions; did he know what his spin rate was and, two, did he care? Danny said no and no; all he cared about was missing bats and the hitters would let him know how he was doing.
It’s a line pitchers use all the time: the hitters will let them know.
But after giving up big hits, some pitchers — and the men that manage them — will claim the hit was given up a good pitch.
Divide the strike zone into nine boxes — three across the top, three across the middle and three across the bottom — and this season Matt Joyce has hit .326 in the middle-away box. Joyce has hit .189 on pitches down-and-away and that’s where Butera set the target. Minor missed by a few inches and that was the difference in the ballgame.
It’s not the first time I’ve said this and it probably won’t be the last; if a pitcher gets beat on a broken-bat flare he can say it was a good pitch. But if the pitcher gets beat on rocket that bangs off the wall before Alex Gordon can get there, the pitch probably wasn’t all that good.
If hitters let pitchers know how they’re doing, Matt Joyce said that wasn’t a good pitch.
The Royals winning formula: defense and a good bullpen
One of the reasons preseason predictions about the 2015 Royals missed the mark is because some of the people making those predictions got overly fixated on the Royals’ walks and home runs. In some people’s opinion, the Royals didn’t have enough of either.
But the Royals got around that by having a great defense and bullpen. You can get away with your offense being sixth-best in runs scored if your pitching and defense is third-best in runs allowed.
This season the defense is still good, but the bullpen hasn’t been the same.
In 2017, if the Royals have a lead going into the eighth inning, they win 90 percent of the time. In 2015, if the Royals took a lead into the fifth inning, they won 94 percent of the time.
That year the Royals bullpen could make almost any lead stand up … this season, not so much.
Being compared to one of the greatest bullpens of all time might be unfair, but if the Royals are going to duplicate what they did in 2015, the bullpen has to pitch better than this.