What’s James Shields got to do to get a win?

05/23/2013 12:09 AM

05/23/2013 12:09 AM

It’s not uncommon to hear a pitcher say he made a good pitch, even when the pitch was hit for a home run. If a ball is hit 400 feet, there’s a very good chance it was not

a good pitch. In the first inning of this 3-1 loss to the Astros, James Shields made a good pitch. It was a 1-2 changeup; thrown down and away to Jason Castro. Castro was fooled, out on his front foot and literally threw his bat at the ball in a desperate attempt to make some kind of contact.

He did.

Castro flared the ball into centerfield for a single. That good pitch led to one of the few bad ones Shields threw: a 2-2 cutter that stayed up and out over the plate. J.D. Martinez deposited that cutter in the right field bleachers and the Astros had all the runs they’d need to win this one. Shields pitched seven innings and gave up only two earned runs, but one bad pitch was enough to lose another ballgame.

What’s James Shields got to do to get a win?

Throw a shutout.

Game notes

First inning:

Chris Getz started the game by hitting a line drive back over the pitcher’s mound. The ball nearly decapitated Jordan Lyles’, but wound up going right into his glove. As fans may have noticed, Getz has returned to his upright stance from last season and has been hitting the ball better, at least so far. Getz had a good night at the plate: a line out in the first, a productive out in the third (intentionally pulling the ball in order to move a runner), a line-drive single in the fifth and a walk in the eighth.

Second inning:

Mike Moustakas popped out to short and ran the ball out. That shouldn’t be news, but if I’m going to point out when Moose doesn’t run one out, I’m going to mention it when he does. He also grounded out two times and ran both those out. I’m kinda hoping this is the last time we have to talk about this subject.

In the bottom of the inning Carlos Pena hit a line drive to Jeff Francoeur and Frenchy lost it in the lights. TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre pointed out that enclosed stadiums have to set the lights lower than open-air stadiums and it’s much easier to lose a ball in a low bank of lights. I’ve had players tell me it kills them when a group shows up, all wearing white shirts, and sits in their line of vision. So, if your church choir is going to a ballgame, make it easy on the players and wear dark colors.

Third inning:

Francoeur tripled and George Kottaras doubled, both took the ball to the opposite-field gap. If hitters are trying to pull the ball, their pitch selection will get worse. Lots of hitting instructors preach looking to hit the ball into the opposite-field gap and then adjusting in.

Kottaras drove in Francoeur and, with nobody out, Chris Getz came to the plate. With the score 2-1, Getz wanted to move Kottaras to third at a minimum. Getz grounded out to second and moved Kottaras to third base with one down. It may have looked like a weak groundball, but to ballplayers, it was a very professional at-bat. Getz had to reach out and hook a changeup to move the runner. With a runner on third, one down and the infield in, Alcides Escobar could not drive the run in. He rolled over a curve, pulled it to third (which freezes the runner) and was thrown out, 5-3. Alex Gordon walked and after 11 pitches, Billy Butler struck out. The Royals missed their best chance to score another run.

Fourth inning:

J.D. Martinez singled—although it looked like a double off the wall—got greedy and was thrown out by Alex Gordon when he tried to advance to second base. Remember, the left-field wall is only 315 feet away from home plate and Gordon has one of the most accurate throwing arms in the league. If the way the Royals are playing has got you down, the next time you’re at the park, just take an inning and do nothing but watch Gordon go about his business in left field. You’re seeing one of the best players in the game and fans ought to enjoy it.

Sixth inning:

If you wondered why Lorenzo Cain took a first-pitch fastball right down the chute to start his sixth-inning at-bat, you might back and see what Eric Hosmer got on his first pitch. Lyles threw Hosmer a changeup and Eric grounded out. An on-deck hitter sees that and it makes him think he might get the same pitch. Creating doubt about what’s coming next is what good pitchers do. If you’re going to give the hitter what he expects, it better be a great pitch.

Eighth inning:

Chris Getz walked to start off the inning and after that it was all downhill. Getz was the tying run and Alcides Escobar tried to bunt him into scoring position. After two pitches, Esky was down 0-2 and Chris was still on first. When a curveball bounced in the dirt, Getz started to advance, realized it hadn’t actually gotten away from the catcher, Jason Castro, and was caught off base. Escobar grounded out to third and Gordon flew out to left to end the Royals half of the eighth.

Bottom of the eighth: If you were facing Kelvin Herrera, what pitch would you look for? I’m guessing fastball (although none of us could hit it). It may be that the rest of the league is just looking fastball and if they get one in a bad location, they smoke it. Herrera walked Jose Altuve (who has really been struggling at the plate), Altuve stole second and then scored when Jason Castro doubled on a fastball. George Kottaras was set-up on the outer half of the plate, but Herrera missed location and the pitch came in on Castro.

That gave the Astros the much-valued "insurance run" going into the ninth inning. An insurance run means the pitcher can be aggressive and the defense can stand where they like—unless the opposition gets someone on, the guy at the plate can’t tie the game. The Royals didn’t come close, final score, 3-1.

Wil Myers and his two-strike approach

I’d heard about this so I did an internet search and found the following article on a website called "Rays Index." It sounds like the original article was in the News Observer newspaper sometime last week. We’ve recently been discussing young players and their attitudes, so this seems like interesting reading for Royals fans:

"Is Wil Myers’ still in the minors just to delay his arbitration eligibility? Maybe not. It might also have to do with his high strikeout totals and his complete disregard for the way the Rays want their players to approach hitting.

In a recent column for NewsObserver.com ( via WatchingDurhamBullsBaseball ), Myers explained that he strikes out a lot because he "is not a good two-strike hitter at all." In Myers’ mind, his job as a run producer is to drive the ball and he refuses to shorten his swing with two strikes.

"I’m not looking to ‘choke and poke’ up there with two strikes. I’m looking for a ball to drive still. You always hear ‘choke and poke’ with two strikes, but as a middle of the order guy, one of the guys that drives in runs, you’re not really looking to just slap the ball around, just put it in play…If I have a runner on base with two strikes, I’m looking to drive the ball, even with two strikes. I’m looking to put the ball in play hard somewhere to drive the run in."

The result is Myers has struck out in 29.6% of his plate appearances this season, the highest rate of his career, and not a good sign for his future in the big leagues. Joe Maddon just said yesterday on the MLB Network that he wants his young hitters to balance their strikeouts and walks. Myers has struck out 50 times and walked just 21 times.

But as a run producer, is Myers held to a different standard? Not according to his own manager. When told of Myers’ comments, Charlie Montoyo was described as having the "expression of a frustrated father"…

"We teach the same thing everybody else teaches…We stress it all the way from rookie ball to the big leagues: You have to shorten your swing with two strikes, try to put the ball in play. You would think it makes sense, man, I don’t want to be striking out, there’s no chance for anything. No error, no infield hit or nothing. I wouldn’t say nobody cares (about striking out). Nobody likes striking out, for sure. It’s just the approach: some people are just taking the same hack day in and day out with one strike or two strikes…You have to keep preaching it. You have to say it a thousand times, maybe a thousand and one times until they start listening. Just because a guy doesn’t do it, that doesn’t mean you’re just going to say, never mind. You’ve got to keep saying it, keep working on it."

So what now? This is an easy fix, but one that will only work if Myers is willing to change. But if he continues to be stubborn, he might be in Durham a lot longer than many of us imagined."

This isn’t the first time Myers’ maturity level has been questioned. A couple of spring trainings ago Fox Sports’ Joel Goldberg was shooting videos and wanted to do one with George Brett showing Myers how to put pine tar on a bat. Myers’ started quibbling with George about how it was done. I’m guessing that if George Brett wants to teach a young player how to put pine tar on a bat, the smart move is to shut up and listen. I can’t speak for George, but he at least

appeared

to get irritated and wound up saying something like: "You’re young—you’ll learn."

Maybe not.

Last season I watched one of Omaha’s games on TV and Myers’ popped up and then threw his bat. Apparently it wasn’t the first time he’d done it or the first time he’d been warned about it. I don’t know Wil, I’ve never even met him—but you’ve got to wonder why some would think Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria or James Loney will scoot over so he can hit in the middle of the lineup once he gets to the big-leagues. There’s a reason they want you to become a complete hitter in the minors, you may be batting seventh for a while after you get called up.

Talk to big league general managers, managers, coaches and players about making decisions based solely on numbers and you’ll often hear the line, "But you’ve got to remember they’re still people." It’s not an exact science, but personality matters. It’s one of the reasons you hear general managers talk about "makeup" and family background.

Nobody has told me anything and this is pure speculation on my part, but if the Royals realized he had an attitude problem that was going to affect Myers’ path to the big leagues, that may have been one of the reasons he was available in a trade.

Now he’s Tampa Bay’s problem.

(Myers is currently hitting .244, with 51 strikeouts in 156 at-bats. He’s also walked 23 times, hit four home runs and has 25 RBIs. Myers currently plays for the Durham Bulls.)

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