The Kansas City Royals lost again on Saturday and even they admit they’re in a funk. Baseball is a game of streaks and the Royals are in a bad one. Against the Texas Rangers their No. 1 starter lost the game and his composure; Yordano Ventura wasn’t pitching well and let his frustration show.
Ventura’s body language was bad, he wandered around behind the mound, he threw a pickoff attempt into centerfield and almost threw another one away at first base; but Eric Hosmer saved him by snagging an off-line throw.
Right now there’s not a lot of good news concerning the Royals, but on Saturday Eric Hosmer took Ventura aside and talked to him and that is good news. To understand why that’s a big deal, you need to understand the big league culture.
Big league teams are run by big league players.
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Teams have managers and coaches, but if a big league player with a guaranteed contract chooses not to listen to those managers and coaches, there’s not a whole lot anybody can do. The player can be fined, benched or demoted—and in rare cases that happens—but most teams don’t want to go to war with their players, so most teams rely on peer pressure. That’s why you hear so much about team leaders; teams have to have them.
But being a team leader is a pain in the neck—it puts a target on your back.
To be a team leader you have to play; nobody is going to listen to a guy who spends his team sitting on the bench. To be a team leader you have to produce; nobody is going to listen to a guy who can’t play the game. And to be a team leader you have to set an example; nobody is going to listen to a guy who tells other people to run the ball out and then fails to do the same. (And if the name Jose Guillen just popped into your mind, it’s not an accident.)
Small wonder that a lot of players choose to keep their mouth shut and just take care of their own business; life is simpler that way.
So give Eric Hosmer credit: when Hosmer pulled Ventura aside to talk to him about keeping his composure, Hosmer put himself in the spotlight—you can’t tell someone else to stay composed and not do the same yourself. It would have been easier to leave Yordano alone, but it was better for the team if someone talked to him.
And Eric Hosmer stepped up.
(P.S. I know players don’t read our stuff as much as we’d like to think they do, but Hos’, if you actually happen to read this and plan on doing something really dumb on or off a baseball field, could you wait a week? Don’t make me look bad.)
The Rangers: a fastball-hitting team against a fastball pitcher
The Texas Rangers have the reputation for being a fastball-hitting team and Saturday’s game did nothing to change that. When you think of Yordano Ventura you probably think "fastball" because he throws it a lot and it can arrive traveling 100 miles an hour.
Evidently, the Rangers think like you do.
Ventura gave up six hits and five of them were on fastballs. It appeared the Rangers came into the game hunting fastballs and against Ventura found enough of them to score four runs. This is the second time Ventura has faced Texas and he’s lost both times; on May 13th he gave up 10 hits and five runs. A fastball-hitting team against a fastball pitcher and so far the fastball hitting team is winning.
But Joey Gallo hit a changeup
On Saturday the one guy who got a hit off Ventura, but didn’t hit a fastball, was Joey Gallo; he hit an 88 MPH changeup (so maybe he thought he was hitting a fastball).
Ask pitching coaches and they’ll tell you a first-pitch changeup is a bad pitch: what are you changing up off of? You haven’t done anything to speed the hitter’s bat up; so throw some fastballs, get the hitter starting early, then throw the changeup.
Gallo had never seen Ventura before and yet Yordano and Salvador Perez threw him a first-pitch changeup. It was a ball, so then they threw another one and got a swing and miss. Next was a 98-MPH fastball, but it wasn’t a strike so Gallo never had to swing and speed his bat up. The fourth pitch was another changeup and after seeing three of them and never having to start early to catch up to a fastball, Gallo was on the changeup and singled.
Why was Joe Blanton successful?
After three innings and 78 pitches—too many pitches in too few innings—Ned Yost pulled Yordano and went to Joe Blanton. Blanton threw three and a third scoreless innings.
Blanton’s fastball tops out in the low nineties; Ventura’s fastball can reach three digits. So why was Blanton successful when Ventura wasn’t?
Blanton threw off-speed pitches for strikes. Now the fastball hitting team was facing a pitcher throwing cutters, sinkers, changeups and curves and the Rangers didn’t look so hot.
The Royals continue to hack
The Royals sent 37 men to the plate on Saturday and only five of them took a called strike two. Like I pointed out yesterday; once the Royals get one strike on them they tend to go into swing mode. Pitchers can expand the zone and it’s likely that the Royals hitters will chase those pitches.
That’s the kind of thing that puts a team in an offensive slump.