Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

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03/30/2013 6:12 PM

05/20/2014 10:41 AM

Looks like my timing was great. I got home from spring training and saw very little snow on the ground and none on my driveway — but it sounds like I did return in time for a cold wave.

Some fans have expressed concern about the Royals playing the Chicago White Sox on Monday in what has been predicted to be 38-degree weather. As The Star’s Royals beat writer, Bob Dutton, points out, it won’t just be the Royals having to adjust. The White Sox also were training in Arizona.

I don’t know for sure because I’ve never been on the mound, but apparently when it’s cold the ball feels slick. That might make breaking balls a bit harder to throw. Also pay attention to pitchers busting hitters inside. It stings a hitter’s hands when a pitcher jams him. In 38-degree weather it will really hurt.

If hitters get overly concerned with getting the bat head to inside fastballs, that will open up the outside part of the plate. The pitcher can exploit that.

Meanwhile, I’ve got two weeks of laundry to wash, mail to open and newspapers to read. While I’m doing that, here is some of the stuff I wrote in spring training and never got around to posting.

Finishing position

The other night, with James Shields on the mound, a batter hit a shot up the middle. James said the ball got a piece of his glove, then deflected to the shortstop for a 1-6-3 put out. James said he doesn’t wind up in the best fielding position and just wants to keep the ball off his body — especially his head.

A pitcher who wind up in a good fielding position — think Greg Maddux — is balanced and has his glove up in a position to field anything hit back to the mound. Anytime a pitcher winds up off-balance in his finish, he not only has a harder time protecting himself, he can be a target for guys who like to bunt for a hit.

A team leader

One of the first things I had pointed out to me when I got to Surprise was that Shields was constantly huddling with teammates. He would pull up a chair at someone else’s locker and talk pitching with another member of the staff.

When Bruce Chen made an appearance in a minor-league game, Shields dropped by and spent time talking with Nate Adcock and Will Smith. They had been sent over to the minor-league side of the complex, but Will said Shields was still great about letting other pitchers pick his brain.

I asked bullpen coach Doug Henry about Shields, and Doug talked about Shields’ team-first attitude. “It’s not about him. It’s about us,” Doug said.

It can seem like a small thing at first, but over 162 games, it’s a big deal. Royals fans should be encouraged by the fact that Shields seems to take being a clubhouse leader seriously. Some guys take care of their own business and leave. Other guys hang out and talk baseball.

Spring training decisions

The night Luke Hochevar got whacked around by the Cubs, manager Ned Yost left him in for a while. Later, a fan complained about Ned’s lack of action. The fan wanted Ned to pull Luke far sooner than he did.

Once again, the answer is spring training is different. If Hochevar were squandering a lead in a regular season game, I’m guessing Yost would pull him much sooner. In a spring training game, Ned is more likely to give Hochevar some rope and see what he does with it.

The same type of thing happened the other day in Goodyear, Ariz. The Royals had Eric Hosmer on first and Salvador Perez on third with Lorenzo Cain at the plate. Cain grounded the ball to the Reds’ third baseman, Todd Frazier.

Instead of trying to turn the double play — which is what usually would happen that early in a game — Frazier threw the ball home, nailing Perez as he tried to score. Because it was a spring training game, Reds manager Dusty Baker may have decided he would rather see his team work on a play at the plate than turning a double play.

Like I said, spring training is different.

Six for six

Wednesday night, Chris Getz went six-for-six. As I already have written, Chris has spread out his batting stance so he has less to do to get ready to hit. He also is emphasizing his top hand so he hits down on the ball.

In my time in Arizona, Chris looked like a different hitter, short and quick to the ball. He pulled sharp line drives when he was ahead in the count. Against the Cubs, he had a double and triple to go along with four singles — and he still was able to take the ball the other way with two strikes.

I got to talk to Chris Thursday morning, and he said that emphasizing his top hand prevents his bat head from looping. (Looping happens when the bat head drops and then starts forward. Using more top hand allows Chris to straighten and shorten the bat head’s path to the ball.)

Pay attention to the count. With his new approach, Chris is more likely to pull the ball early in the count and go the other way if he falls behind.

Billy Butler’s strike zone

If you’ve been watching Billy Butler since he came to the big leagues, you should be seeing a more selective hitter these days. According to Billy, his strike zone — what he is willing to swing at — has gotten smaller since he arrived at this level.

But once Billy gets to two strikes, you will see a less selective hitter. He will enlarge his zone because he doesn’t want to leave it up to the umpire. Butler says it’s not like he never gets locked up — fooled by a pitch and unable to pull the trigger — but he’s definitely in swing mode once he has two strikes.

At that point, it’s important for a hitter to know the umpire’s reputation. Does the guy behind the plate have a small strike zone or a big one? Can the hitter take a borderline pitch, or does he need to swing the bat?

Everybody likes a pitch in the middle of the plate, but a lot of hitters also like certain pitches off the plate. For Billy, it’s the pitch that is down.

A low fastball — even one that is out of the zone — is a pitch he can hit hard back up the middle. You will see Billy swing at that when he’s seeing the ball well. When he’s not seeing the ball well, you might see him chase a similar pitch, a slider or splitter that is down in the zone, but too far down.

Pay attention. If you see Billy swing at a chase pitch — a pitch that starts in the strike zone and then moves down out of the zone — he’s not seeing the ball well. If you see him spit on that pitch (let it go by), he’s locked in.


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