Friday night James Shields started against the Detroit Tigers. He gave up 14 hits and 10 runs and only lasted three and two-thirds innings. That was too long for many Royals fans—they were screaming for Shields to be taken out long before he was. Shields was replaced by long reliever Luis Mendoza and things did not get a whole lot better: Mendoza went three and a third innings, gave up eight hits and five more runs. Once again, fans were unhappy; couldn’t manager Ned Yost see what was happening?
Sure he could.
But Ned Yost has to manage all 162 games, not just one. Pull an ineffective starter too soon and you burn up your bullpen for the next day. Panic—pull a guy who is losing a game—and you might wind up losing a series. It’s not good managing to waste good relief pitching on a hopeless cause; save your best relievers and use them when they can help.
Friday night Ned Yost went as far as he could with James Shields, then went as far as he could with Luis Mendoza. Because Ned Yost did not burn up his bullpen in a lop-sided game on Friday—a 16-2 loss—the Royals won a 4-3 game on Saturday.
Let’s go back to Thursday: the Royals played 13 innings and used relievers Francisley Bueno, Will Smith, Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Donnie Joseph and Louis Coleman. The day before—Wednesday—Wade Davis, Bueno, Herrera, Collins, Joseph, Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow pitched. Use those guys again on Friday and they wouldn’t be available Saturday.
Danny Duffy was the starting pitcher Saturday night and he hasn’t had a history of going deep in games. With Danny on the mound, your bullpen better be ready—Saturday night it was. Duffy threw four and a third innings and was relieved by Wade Davis. Wade was followed by Will Smith, Luke Hochevar and closer Greg Holland. Those guys were available because they weren’t used on Friday. After the Royals beat the Tigers 4-3 Saturday night, Ned Yost said he’d been worn out by unhappy fans the night before, but he stuck to his guns.
"I know what I’m doing."
Next time you see a manager stick with a pitcher when the pitcher’s getting whacked all over the ballpark, remember: the manager is managing that gameand
the next. What Ned Yost did in a loss on Friday led to a win on Saturday.
• Danny Duffy started the game jacked up: the ball was up in the zone and that’s often a sign of overthrowing. Duffy gave up one run in the first inning and wasn’t able to throw an off-speed pitch for a strike until the fifth hitter—Victor Martinez—came to the plate.
That’s when he found his arm slot and things started to click. When hitters don’t have to worry about off-speed pitches, their job becomes a lot easier. The fact that Duffy can get by as well as he does throwing nothing but a fastball for strikes tells you it’s a pretty good fastball. Once he mixes in his breaking stuff Duffy can be dominant. After the game Ned Yost said Danny started to lose it again in the fifth inning and since the Royals relievers were rested, Yost could go to the pen early.
• In the second inning Duffy had Ramon Santiago 1-2 and wound up walking him. You don’t want to give free passes to a number-nine hitter with a .230 batting average. Santiago tried to steal second and was thrown out by Salvador Perez. I’ll have to ask someone who knows more than me, but it appears Perez saves a lot of time on the transfer: Sal gets the ball from his mitt to his hand very quickly.
• David Lough doubled in the third inning and the Royals bunted him over to third base. Once Lough was on third base the Tigers brought their infield in to cut off a run at the plate. Both teams were playing like one run was important—both teams were right. The pitchers involved usually dictate how the game is played on offense and defense; if they’re good, play for one. If they’re bottom-of-the-rotation types, play for the big inning.
• Alcides Escobar got the ball in play and David Lough came home on what looked like a contact play. The runner on third breaks for home if the hitter makes contact, but this time it didn’t work: Prince Fielder made a difficult throw to the plate and Brayan Pena stopped Lough from scoring. Pena is listed at 5’ 9" and 230 pounds. Lough is listed at 180 and 5’11"—Pena is going to win that contest.
• The inning continued and Escobar—safe on a fielder’s choice when Fielder threw the ball home—went first to third on an Alex Gordon single. There were two outs and Emilio Bonifacio was at the plate. Detroit’s third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, looked into the Tigers’ dugout and signaled a question: where do you want me?
Cabrera wound up just short of the grass and it wasn’t close enough: Bonifacio laid down a perfect bunt, Escobar scored and Bonifacio was safe at first. It appeared to be asafety squeeze not a suicide squeeze. In a suicide squeeze the runner breaks for home plate when the pitcher’s front foot hits the ground—before the ball is bunted. In a safety squeeze the runner waits to see if the hitter gets the bunt down, then
breaks for home
• Just before Danny Duffy was pulled, catcher Salvador Perez went to the mound and stalled for time. Managers have a sign for that—they hold their hand up and make the sign we all use to signal "talking." Umpires aren’t crazy about it—they know what’s going on—it’s just a stall while a reliever gets ready.
• The reliever in question was Wade Davis. He came into a one-out, bases-loaded situation with Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera due up. Davis struck out Hunter, but still had to face Cabrera. Wade wound up walking him on a 3-2 pitch and that forced in a run.
After the game Davis said every pitch he threw Cabrera was a "strike out" pitch—nothing in the middle of the plate. Wade figured he’d stay on the black and if he walked Cabrera and a run came in, that was still better than throwing a fastball down the middle and having Miggy hit it 400 feet. When a guy’s got 41 home runs and 131 RBIs, he gets respect.
• Walk Jarrod Dyson and it’s a double because he’s probably going to steal second base. That’s what happened in the fifth inning. Alcides Escobar then singled and Dyson scored. The ball was hit to left and as we’ve seen, left fielders often have average arms that can be challenged—Alex Gordon is an exception.
• Eric Hosmer doubled in the sixth inning and Billy Butler appeared to be trying to move him over by hitting the ball to the right side of the field. That’s not a given; if you’re a bottom of the order guy and the run’s important, they’ll want you to move the runner over. If you’re a middle of the order hitter, they may want you to forget moving the runner over—go ahead and drive him in.
Billy did neither, he struck out. But Salvador Perez picked him up; the Royals’ catcher hit Justin Verlander’s 99th pitch of the game 407 feet and the Royals were ahead to stay.
Reading a pitcher’s move
Base running coaches spend a lot of time studying a pitcher’s move to first. What they’re looking for is any clue that lets them know whether the pitcher is going to throw the ball to home plate or attempt a pickoff at first. Does the pitcher hold his glove in one position when he’s going to the plate; another when he’s coming over to first? How about his head: does he keep it up when he throw to first and drop it when he’s going home? Video makes it easier, but a coach can spend a lot of time trying to spot a difference in deliveries. And, on occasion, the base running coach will look at the pitchers on his team; can he spot a difference intheir
If the base running coach can see a difference, the team needs to get that fixed. But if a change is needed, you keep the delivery to home plate and adjust the delivery to first base. If a pitcher struggles with an adjustment, have him make his bad throws to first base; all that happens is you don’t pickoff a runner. Make a bad throw to home and you might pay when the guy at the plate hits the ball out of the park.
A poor pickoff throw probably won’t lose you a game, a poor pitch might.