After the Royals lost 6-2 to the Minnesota Twins, I stopped by Eric Hosmer’s locker and asked what he saw out of Twins starting pitcher, Tommy Milone. Here’s what Hosmer said: “Hard in, soft away and he didn’t make too many mistakes out over the plate.”
That’s pretty much the basic formula for pitching: make the hitters speed up their bats to get to the fastball inside, then slow those bats down with soft stuff away and keep the ball out of the middle of the plate.
Milone did that for seven innings, gave up two runs and walked off with a win.
The first run of the game
A while back I got to sit down with Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki and talk about some of the Jedi mind tricks smart catchers play with the other team’s hitters and their own team’s pitchers.
One of the most interesting things Kurt told me was how he would introduce a pitcher’s off-speed stuff into a game: he would often wait until the pitcher was in a count where throwing a strike was not crucial. That way the pitcher could bounce a curve or throw a changeup out of the zone, but still get a feel for the pitch — and getting a feel for the pitch would be crucial later in the game. That’s when Kurt would ask the pitcher to throw that curve or changeup for a strike.
I was reminded of that right after Yordano Ventura threw his third pitch of the game. It was a 1-1 changeup and Twins leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks parked it beyond the right-field wall.
Salvador Perez was set up down and away, but Ventura left the changeup up and over the plate. The changeup is probably Yordano’s third-best pitch and clearly he did not have a feel for it. After that Hicks homer, Ventura abandoned the changeup for several innings and did not throw another one until the fifth inning.
Things fell apart in the sixth
The game was tied 1-1 until the top of the sixth inning. The Twins started things off with three singles in a row, all on fastballs. Pitching coach Dave Eiland visited the mound and I’ve got no clue what Dave said, but the next hitter — Aaron Hicks — started seeing more off-speed stuff.
And one of those off-speed pitches was a curve in the dirt.
You can tell how well a catcher blocks a pitch in the dirt by how far the ball rolls away from home plate. If it doesn’t roll far, the catcher did a good job. This ball took off sideways like a missile and wound up by the Royals dugout.
Slow the video down and you can see how that happened: Salvador Perez came up too soon, the ball went under his mitt and hit the home plate umpire’s shin guard. Kurt Suzuki scored the Twins’ third run on the wild pitch and that’s all Minnesota would need to send the Royals to their fourth loss in a row.
How pitchers pitch with runners in scoring position
After Eric Hosmer and I talked about Tommy Milone’s performance, we talked about hitting with runners in scoring position; I wanted to know how pitchers pitch with a runner on second or third base. Hosmer said there’s definitely a difference; it’s why you see rallies start, but then die.
I asked if pitchers threw more off-speed stuff once a runner got into scoring position and Eric thought it had more to do with aggressiveness. With nobody on base pitchers will come right at you; with runners in scoring position they’ll try to get a hitter to chase a pitch that’s off the plate.
Smart pitchers try to use the hitter’s aggressiveness against him. Hitters want RBIs and they can get too eager to drive that run in and that leads the hitter to chase pitches that are out of the strike zone.
But it’s a fine line: with a runner in scoring position the hitter needs to go after the first good pitch he sees — the table is set, there’s no reason to wait. If the first good pitch is the 0-0 pitch; swing. But if it’s a chase pitch, the hitter has to be patient, wait for the pitcher to fall behind in the count and then be aggressive when the pitcher has to come back into the strike zone.
And according to Eric Hosmer, that’s much easier said than done.