Judging the Royals

August 6, 2013

Catching up with Royals' Hosmer after his big game

Eric Hosmer went 3 for 5, scored twice, drove in five runs and hit a ball over 400 feet, so after the game there was quite a crowd around his locker—everybody wanted to talk to him. I waited off to the side until everyone was done and Eric was alone, then said: "Good for you, I’m happy for you."

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Eric Hosmer went 3 for 5, scored twice, drove in five runs and hit a ball over 400 feet, so after the game there was quite a crowd around his locker—everybody wanted to talk to him. I waited off to the side until everyone was done and Eric was alone, then said: "Good for you, I’m happy for you."

The press is supposed to be neutral, but we’re really not. In fact, being negative and getting off a good quip at a team or player’s expense is highly appreciated press-box humor. But even if you’re totally self-interested, I don’t see how you wouldn’t want the team you cover to do well. The stories are more interesting, the players are more talkative and there are more fans paying attention. Doing well is good for everyone—media included.

But there’s another side to this.

You get to know the players. They’re like co-workers in another division of the same industry: baseball. Some of them are very likeable and you naturally—at least in my mind—pull for them. That doesn’t mean you ignore a guy missing the cutoff man or failing to run out a grounder; we’ve got a job to do and writing about mistakes is part of it. But when you see guys who have struggled come back and do well, I’m happy for them. Eric Hosmer struggled last season and some fans turned on him. To see the guy persevere and have his current success makes me feel good.

When I told Eric I was glad for him and why, he got a big grin, threw me a fist-bump and said: "We gotta keep it going." Here’s hoping they do. The Royals are currently five games over .500. They’ve got two more games with Minnesota, followed by what should be a tough series against Boston and finally wind up this home stand against Miami—a team that’s struggled. You never know how long the good times will last, but the players, fans


the media should enjoy them while they do.

Monday night the Royals beat the Twins, 13-0.

Game notes

• Jeremy Guthrie threw a nine-inning shutout and is now 12-7. Everyone talks to the pitcher after a performance like that—and they should—but if eight reporters are talking to him, that story is getting covered. I went to find catcher George Kottaras. He was sitting by himself and had time to talk, so I asked him what was working for Guthrie Monday night.

"Strike one."

Jeremy was getting ahead and forcing the hitters to take the bats off their shoulders. After the Royals scored six runs in the second inning, Guthrie could come right after the hitters; a mistake pitch wasn’t going to cost him the ball game. If I counted right, Jeremy had a 10-pitch third inning, an 8-pitch fourth, a 10-pitch fifth and a 6-pitch sixth. The Twins aggressiveness was allowing Jeremy to go deep in the game. I asked George if he was surprised by the Twins coming after Guthrie like that and he said, no; once a pitcher has established that he’s throwing strikes and isn’t going to walk anybody, you


to hit your way back in the game. And in fact, the three ball put in play in the sixth were all hit on the screws, but at somebody. When a guy hits a ball hard, he got a good pitch to hit and at this level, he might not get two.

Finally I asked George how closely they were able to stick to the game plan; the catcher and starting pitcher come up with a plan of attack for each hitter and each trip through the lineup. The first time through the order they might go after a hitter one way, then depending on how the hitter reacts, go after him a different way in subsequent at-bats. Bottom line; George said there were able to follow the game plan pretty closely, everything was working. But he also said the catcher has to be willing to respond to what’s happening that night—a pitcher might lose the feel for his slider for an inning or two and get it back after that. The catcher has to be aware of that and change the plan of attack accordingly.

But when your pitcher throws a complete game shutout, things went pretty well—just don’t forget to give some credit to the catcher who caught him.

• When a team explodes for sixteen hits and 13 runs, there always seems to be at least one guy who takes an O-fer. This time there were two starters who did not get a hit; Miguel Tejada (0-3) and Alex Gordon (0-5). Gordon lined out to second base in his last at-bat. We got on the elevator together and told him for a second I thought he had a knock on that last at-bat. Alex grinned and said the lineout ended a "perfect" night.

If you’re worried about Gordon’s hitting I should tell you Rusty Kuntz thought Alex hit four balls that should have been home runs in New York, but none of them left the yard. Apparently Citi Field has some weird air currents that knock balls down and makes it tough to clear the fences. While Rusty was telling me this he was playing catch with Justin Maxwell. Rusty yelled at Justin and asked how many home run balls Gordon hit in New York and Justin held up four fingers. The Rusty asked how many home runs Gordon actually got and Justin made a zero shape with his hand.

Gordon didn’t swing the bat well Monday night—two strikeouts, two pop ups and a line out—but things would look different if he’d hit four home runs over the weekend.

• Even though Alcides Escobar had a 4-1 groundout in the third inning, that’s what the Royals want to see; balls hit low and possibly to the right side of the field. Esky also had a bunt single and hit a grounder up the middle for another single in the seventh.

• The Twins decided they’d wasted enough pitching on a lost cause and sent infielder Jamey Carroll out to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning. Predictably enough, Carroll went 1-2-3 by throwing batting practice at 74 to 79 miles an hour. The pitches were so slow MLB.com registered the first two as knuckleballs (they weren’t) and then started calling them changeups. I asked Elliot Johnson if facing a position player sucked; if you hit him you’re supposed to, if you don’t it’s embarrassing. Elliot disagreed: a hit’s a hit. It only sucks if you don’t get a hit and Johnson didn’t; although the Twins left fielder, Oswaldo Arcia, fell down while catching Elliot’s low fly ball—it appeared the ball was in the lights, but Arcia stuck with it and made the grab.

After the game Eric Hosmer said he wanted


part of Jamey Carroll because an at-bat like that can screw you up for a week.

The right-field corner at the K

It’s about three o’clock on Monday afternoon and outfield coach Rusty Kuntz is hitting fungoes. He’s hitting them to the newest Royals outfielder, Justin Maxwell. Justin is learning how to play the right-field corner at the K. The corners in Kauffman Stadium look fairly clean: no weird angles or walls, just a couple of deceptively innocent-looking symmetrical curves—curves that will punish you if you do the wrong thing.

Watch Rusty hit balls off the wall and you begin to get an idea of the wide variety of caroms a corner outfielder can encounter in Kauffman Stadium. For instance: If a right-handed opposite field hitter like Jamey Carroll hits a ball down the right field line, the ball can land fair and then spin off into foul territory and hit the side wall. The same thing can happen when a left-handed hitter like Alex Gordon pulls the ball. Depending on the ball’s spin and where it hits on a pad, the ball can:

1.) Continue to hug the wall and head down into the right field corner

2.) It can kick out at a right angle into short right or

3.) It can split the difference and ricochet off the wall at a 45-degree angle

And there’s no way to tell in advance which carom you’ll get. A ball that hits the middle of a pad will react differently than a ball that hits a seam.

If the ball gets under the pads it can hit concrete and now you have a whole new set of problems. It can shoot out sideways or it can hug the wall and shoot down into the rounded corner like a pinball. If it reaches the bullpen fence, that sticks out a bit so the ball can hit that, bounce off and reverse course. Rusty was showing Justin how to put his left foot up against the wall to keep the ball from getting past him. If that happens, it’s a triple—and if the guy can fly you might see an inside-the-park home run while the outfielders chase the ball. Being right-handed, Maxwell can catch the ball and spin counter-clockwise (to his glove side) and make the throw to second or third. A left-handed thrower has a more difficult time with his footwork, which is why a right-handed thrower is preferable in right field.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time watching fungoes off the wall to figure out why it’s hard to play the right-field corner at the K.

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