Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

The fireworks start early: White Sox 9, Royals 1

06/22/2013 7:29 AM

06/22/2013 7:29 AM

Some 33,830 people came out to see baseball and a fireworks show afterwards. Unfortunately for the Royals, the fireworks show started in the top of the third inning: Jeremy Guthrie was knocked out of the game early and long reliever Bruce Chen replaced him. Two pitches later Chicago White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo hit a three-run bomb and the Sox were up 7-0 before the Royals had made it all the way through their batting order for the first time.

After the game Ned Yost said Guthrie: "Just didn’t have it."

Two and a third innings, five hits, three walks and six earned runs — Guthrie is now 7-5 with an ERA of 4.20. The only good thing that happened on the mound — other than J.C. Gutierrez and Kelvin Herrera throwing scoreless innings — was Chen throwing four and two thirds. He gave up three runs and the box score isn’t pretty, but Bruce pitched long enough to set up the rest of the bullpen for the next two days. It’s not much of a consolation prize, but when you lose 9-1 and had a total of three hits, you take what you can get.

Game notes After the game Ned Yost said Chicago starting pitcher Hector Santiago threw strikes and changed speeds — good game plan. According to MLB.com Santiago threw fastballs, sinkers, cutters change-ups, curve balls and get this: a screwball. Funny, it looked like he was throwing the kitchen sink at the Royals. The last time Jeremy Guthrie pitched in Kauffman Stadium he got 14 fly ball outs while pitching against the Detroit Tigers. It appeared that the Kansas City outfielders were playing deeper in this game (I use the patterns in the grass to figure out where they’re standing) and Guthrie’s tendency to get balls hit in the air and the increased temperature might have had something to do with the outfield positioning. I’ve been told Adam Dunn has no two-strike approach. He doesn’t shorten up his swing, choke up on the bat or try to go the other way. He’s waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake and if he does, Dunn will crush it. As a result of this hitting philosophy, Adam is hitting .186, but he also has 19 home runs and 44 RBIs to go with it. Dunn can make his hitting approach pay off, but there are too many guys without his kind of power who take the same approach to hitting with two strikes. In the bottom of the first inning Salvador Perez leaned out and took a whack at a pitch well outside the strike zone. When you see a hitter do that — dive to the outside part of the plate — expect the pitcher to come inside on the next pitch. Santiago did, Perez took it for a ball and eventually grounded out to short. In the second inning Alexei Ramirez handled a ground ball hit right at him by Lorenzo Cain. The Chicago shortstop has the reputation for going well laterally and sometimes flubbing a ball hit right at him — it could be too much time to think or getting sloppy with what appears to be a routine ground ball. There are plenty of infielders with that reputation and Alcides Escobar threw a ball away in a similar circumstance in the sixth inning; the ball was hit right at him, Esky threw from a low arm angle and the ball sailed, pulling Eric Hosmer off first base. Those kinds of errors are generally considered concentration errors. Later in the second inning, Miguel Tejada fouled a 92-mph fast ball straight back. When that happens you’ll often see a pitcher change speeds or throw the next pitch higher. Fouling the ball straight back means the timing was right, but the bat was under the center of the ball. Climb the ladder and maybe the hitter will miss completely. Santiago took the other route: he changed speeds and threw Tejada an 81-mph changeup for a foul-tip strike out. When the Royals were still down only 2-0, Jeff Francoeur singled with two outs. Two outs is usually a good time to run — stay at first and you’ll probably need two hits to score — but other circumstances probably kept Frenchy where he was. Santiago is left-handed so it’s difficult to get a jump, and catcher Tyler Flowers is faster than average (1.9 seconds) on getting the ball down to second base. Francoeur only has two stolen bases — last night was not a good time to attempt a third. The long reliever coming in early was a regular thing last season — so much so that the Royals practically had a shuttle running between KC and Omaha. Use your long reliever on Friday and you may not have one available on Saturday. This season the Royals are in a better shape: Bruce Chen was used up Friday night, but Luke Hochevar didn’t throw at all. If the Royals need a long reliever Saturday — and let’s hope they don’t — I’m guessing Luke would get the call. Guthrie’s stuff appeared to be up in the strike zone — at least according to MLB.com — and this season other teams’ slugging percentage against him is .226 on ground balls and .809 on fly balls. There wasn’t much to cheer about when the Royals were at the plate, but Eric Hosmer did pull a 414-foot home run to right center. On the other hand, it was an 83-mph changeup, so pulling the ball is the most likely thing he’d do on that pitch. Hosmer also one-hopped the wall for a double in left-center on a 92-mph sinker. Since George Brett has been working on Hosmer’s swing, they’ve been trying to tone down his front-leg kick and start his hands a little further back so he doesn’t have so much to do to get in a good hitting position. If there’s less to do, less can go wrong and Hosmer can be on time on the inside pitch. Early in the season I was told Eric had been getting busted hard inside and once pitchers got him reacting to that pitch in, off the plate, they’d go away. That led to some of the "ass-out" hitting (hey, it’s baseball term) we saw last season. Your rear end goes one direction and your hands go another. I’ve been under the general impression that the Royals were less concerned with Hosmer pulling the ball than a lot of the fans. I think they wanted him hitting the ball hard somewhere to start with and figured pulling the ball would eventually come.

The center fielder and second base

I try to talk to the Royals coaches every chance I get. Coaches are usually on the field early and most of them are baseball lifers; they love the game and love to talk about it. Shut up and listen and you can learn a lot. And here’s another nugget of information from third base coach Eddie Rodriguez:

Center fielders cannot play straight up. If they lined up with home plate and second base (the straight-up position) the pitcher would block their view of the plate. That’s why center fielders have to play off to one side or another of second base. If you pay attention and see that the center fielder is on the left-field side of second and a batted ball goes by second on the right-field side of the base, a runner has a good chance of going first to third or second to home; the center fielder has to move laterally to get the ball and the throw won’t be as strong. If the center fielder is on the right-field side and the ball goes by second base on the left-field side, a runner might not be able to first to third (the center fielder might be heading toward third base), but the lateral movement would still help a runner trying to score from second.

I don’t know if I’m getting smarter, but I do know I’m having a hard time deciding what part of the field I should watch. There’s too much going on to see everything.

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