Judging the Royals

August 8, 2013

Royals' Danny Duffy: 'I was a dumpster fire'

Overexcited, hyped up, over-amped — pick an adjective to describe Danny Duffy in the first inning of his first big-league start since his elbow surgery. After the game, Duffy said he couldn’t feel his legs in the first inning and later said: "I was a dumpster fire." Hadn’t heard that one before, but I’m guessing it’s not good.

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

Overexcited, hyped up, over-amped—pick an adjective to describe Danny Duffy in the first inning of his first big league start since his elbow surgery. After the game Danny said he couldn’t feel his legs in the first inning and later said: "I was a dumpster fire." Hadn’t heard that one before, but I’m guessing it’s not good.

Duffy threw eight straight fastballs to the first hitter he saw—one of them touched 99 MPH—but the eighth one was hit for a triple. Ballplayers will sometimes say a guy is trying to throw the ball through the backstop and Danny took a shot—he threw a wild pitch that let the guy on third score.

Somewhere in there Danny began to pitch: he threw a 2-1 changeup that set up Justin Morneau for the 96 MPH fastball that came next. He began to mix in his curve, although he said he was trying to throw best curve ever and that made it difficult to find his release point. But even though he struggled with his command and his emotions, everyone saw the same thing: "electric stuff."

That’s how Ned Yost described it and they can’t teach that—you’re born with it or you ain’t. Danny Duffy was born with it and he can learn the other stuff. And he now knows what he needs to learn. After the game Danny said he didn’t know what would happen next—maybe he stays for another start, maybe he goes back down to the minors, but he feels like he took a big step either way.

Danny Duffy made it back to the big leagues.

The Royals beat the Twins, 5-2.

Pressure on the pen

Duffy only went three and two-thirds innings, but took 93 pitches to do it. (He also struck out seven and that took up quite a few of those 93 pitches.) That meant the Royals bullpen had to supply five and a third innings, but fortunately, Ned Yost had planned for it.

Tuesday night James Shields had a bad outing, but still threw six innings. Will Smith relieved Shields and threw the other three. Knowing Duffy was throwing the next game and probably wouldn’t go deep, Ned wanted to get through Tuesday’s game with as little bullpen help as possible. That’s right; Ned was managing Wednesday’s game on Tuesday. Smith was the only reliever used Tuesday night and then sent back down; that meant everyone was fresh for Wednesday and that was a good thing.

You can see what a starter who doesn’t go deep does to a pen: Louis Colman was in by the fourth inning, got the Royals through that, the fifth and part of the sixth and then it was Tim Collins’ turn. Collins came on and got his three guys: lefties Oswaldo Arcia and Clete Thomas, followed by switch-hitting Pedro Florimon. But that still left the Royals with two and two thirds innings to be pitched.

I’ve heard it said that if you use enough relievers you’ll find one that doesn’t have it that night and for about two-and-a-half batters it looked like that reliever might be Aaron Crow. He gave up two singles and then got out of it with a double play—a 3-6-1—and anytime you see a double play that starts with a 3 you’ve seen something special. Double plays started by the first baseman are generally the most difficult because it requires two long throws and usually has as least one weird throwing angle. The Royals turned it and got to the eighth inning and Kelvin Herrera. And then, for a while, it looked like Herrera didn’t have it.

Catcher Brett Hayes said Kelvin struggled with his fastball command and they eventually started using his changeup when they needed a strike. Kelvin still managed to walk two and bring the tying run to the plate, but once he got Clete Thomas to groundout to third for the final out of the eighth, the game was pretty much over. Greg Holland came out and got his 30th save in 18 pitches.

In the post-game press conference Ned Yost said they managed to get through this game without burning anyone up and that’s a good thing—the Boston Red Sox are coming to town and they’re playing better than most of the Royals recent opponents.

A four game series starts on Thursday.

Game notes

• Brett Hayes bunted a ball foul on the first pitch of his first at bat and then shot the ball past the third baseman for a double on the next pitch. The third baseman was playing even with the bag. Not every bunt has to be successful at the time; sometimes a failed attempt buys you a hit later.

• Alcides Escobar had a good night at the plate hitting three balls to the right side and that’s what they want to see.

• Pedro Florimon had a 3-2 count and the Twins put a runner on first base in motion. When a hitter knows the runner on first is going, he has to pull the ball or hit it the other way. Driving the ball up the middle—normally a very good thing—guarantees there will be someone there to catch it. The runner draws one of the middle infielders to the bag. In this case it was Alcides Escobar and Florimon was thrown out at first.

• In the fifth inning Lorenzo Cain hit a shot off the Twin pitcher and the ball deflected into right field. Cain did not run to first base at full speed and then decided to try for second base by turning on the after-burners; he was thrown out easily. They say doubles are made out of the box—so are singles. (More on Cain’s base running shortly.)

3-0 counts

Tuesday night James Shields threw Justin Morneau a 3-0 fastball and Morneau hit the ball out of the park. Morneau has hit Shields well (currently .368 with a .842 slugging percentage) and the on-deck Oswaldo Arcia hadn’t hit Shields at all (0 for six) so you might wonder why Shields pitched to Morneau—first base was open—but that’s another article.

This one is about 3-0 counts.

Former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery says he got burned early in his career when he assumed guys weren’t swinging 3-0 and found out differently. After that, he assumed


was swinging 3-0. In his case he had an easier time throwing his slider for a strike than his fastball and that worked out well for him. If a hitter has the 3-0 green light, he’s not looking for a slider. He’s looking for a fastball and he’s looking for it in one spot. Miss that spot or throw something other than a fastball and the hitter will take the pitch—or at least he should. Pop up a 3-0 slider and you may not get another green light for a while.

Monty defended Shields pitching to Morneau in that spot; Jeff thought it was too early to start intentionally walking people. If something bad happens your team has time to make up for it—a closer doesn’t have the same luxury.

Either way, the point of this is knowing that when a pitcher gets in a 3-0 count and throws something other than a fastball, he might have a very good reason for doing so.

Locain on the bases

(It took me a while to get to this, but better late than never.)

Back in New York during the Mets series Lorenzo Cain hit a pop fly that the Mets second baseman lost in the sun. Lorenzo made it to first, but I wondered if he should have been on second base. I never saw a replay of what he was doing on the base paths while the camera followed the ball, so I asked first base coach Rusty Kuntz if Cain should have made it to second and Rusty said no.

The ball was not hit deep enough and had Cain tried, Rusty thinks he would have been caught between first and second base. You’ll see guys run those balls out, make a big turn and head for second without considering what will happen if the ball drops—they’ll be caught between bases. So Cain did not mess that one up, but he did neglect to run out another pop fly that would have resulted in a double play had the Mets seen what he was doing.

Alex Gordon was on first base with one down when Lorenzo hit another pop fly to second. The infield fly rule does not apply with only one runner on base, so if the second baseman had dropped the ball the Mets could have turned two while Gordon was going back to first and Cain was standing at the plate. Rusty said he was caught between a rock and a hard place because he wanted to alert Lorenzo that he needed to be running without alerting the Mets second baseman that he wasn’t. Fortunately, the guy caught the ball.

Rusty then pointed out that the infield fly rule does not apply on an attempted bunt and batters who pop the ball up and stand there watching are making a big mistake.

We’ve talked about this before, but ballplayers need to go at a minimum of 80% to save energy and then turn it on when it’s needed—but some guys don’t give 80%. You don’t want to lose a game you could have won because you did something dumb. I’ve done it myself; you pop the ball up and you’re so disgusted with the results you have a temper tantrum. But it needs to be a short one—then get moving down the line.


The Minnesota Twins have been known for good fundamentals for a long time, but Monday night they played some bad baseball. In the fourth inning with Ryan Doumit on second base and one out, Trevor Plouffe hit the ball to the left side of second base. Unless the ball is hit so softly hit that the shortstop or third baseman has to charge forward or hit so hard they go back (away from third), the base runner can’t advance and should hold his ground. Ryan Doumit took off for third anyway and Alcides Escobar threw him out easily.

Then Plouffe got picked off first base.

The Twins were down by six runs at the time, so he probably wasn’t trying to steal a base. When things are going bad people lose focus and things go from bad to worse. That’s part of what makes baseball such a grind: the continual need to stay locked in on what’s happening right now. Try staying locked in for six months and 162 games.

Jeff Montgomery talked about that very thing. Monty said that even though you’re playing for the name on the front of your jersey, you better also play for the name on the back. You need to put up numbers or the name on the front of your jersey is bound to change. And when are going badly, you need to play for pride; don’t turn in a lousy effort just because you’re down by six. And if it makes a difference Plouffe redeemed himself to a degree by going head first into a dugout suite to make a catch on a foul pop.

(By the way; when a player heads your way to make a catch on a pop fly, they appreciate you being ready to break their fall if they go over a railing. Even if they’re on the other team, nobody wants to see an athlete get seriously hurt by landing on his head.)

The infield

Kauffman’s Stadium’s infield is now faster than it was when the Royals left town. The grounds crew has shortened the grass to 5/8s of an inch. They tried 1/2 inch, but decided that was too short. Some fields go with 9/16ths and the fact that they’re measuring this stuff in sixteenths of an inch is kind of amazing. The thinking on shortening the infield grass goes this way: the Royals are a fly-ball pitching team, but a groundball-hitting team (no idea if that’s true) and for the most part, Kansas City has young infielders with good range. (Maybe they’ll leave the grass longer in front of Miguel Tejada—and as crazy as that sounds, it can actually be done.) I asked head grounds keeper Trevor Vance if they ever tailored the grass to take advantage of a visiting team and he said no, they go with whatever favors their own guys.

So if you see a groundball just barely get through the infield this week, now you know why. Take that into account when you think about infielders’ range: all playing surfaces are not the same—and the one at the K just got faster.



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