fastball and also threw a slider and what MLB.com called a changeup, but might actually be a splitter.
This is what they mean when they talk about power arms out of the bullpen; guys who throw in the mid-to-upper nineties. Throw that hard and hitters have to start their swings sooner and when hitters start their swings sooner they’re out in front of all those curveballs, changeup, cutters and sliders.
As Star reporter Blair Kerkhoff wrote earlier today, the Royals bullpen has now thrown 14 consecutive scoreless innings. They scuffled early, but recently the bullpen has been lights out. Lucky for Bruce Chen; he threw five innings and gave up four earned runs. Bruce left the game with a lead, but leads don’t get much smaller. The score was 5-4 when Chen came off the mound and thanks to Duffy, Davis and Holland it was still 5-4 when the game was over.
After the game Ned Yost explained Chen’s problem: Bruce works the corners and throws pitches off the plate. When he’s going good Bruce gets hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone—but the Twins are a very patient team. In fact, the Twins lead the American League in walks. Bruce Chen can dominate a team that’s aggressive and chases pitches, but will have a harder time with a team that has a more patient approach. After five innings Bruce Chen had thrown 98 pitches, faced 26 batters and was about to face the Twins lineup for the fourth time. Ned Yost went to his pen and they protected the Royals one-run lead.
Chen + pen = win.
*Alex Gordon picked up where he left off Friday night, making a long running catch on a Brian Dozier fly ball for the first out of the first inning.
*Gordon picked up a double when Jason Kubel struggled with a ball in the sun. Chris Colabello also had some adventures in right field. Aaron Hicks, the Twins centerfielder, is hitting .179; Kubel is hitting .333 and Colabello is hitting .359. Guess which guy is out there for his glove and which two guys are out there because they can hit.
*After Gordon’s double Billy Butler failed to move him over to third base, grounding out to short instead. Three innings later Butler hit a ball just to the shortstop’s left and it went through for a single. Hit a ball at the shortstop and you’re a bum, hit it three feet the other way and you’re clutch.
*After Butler’s groundout, Twins pitcher Kevin Correia had one down and first base open. Mike Moustakas was at the plate. Moose came into the game with .462 lifetime average against Corriea, so no surprise that Moose walked on four pitches. That set up a double play. Plus Justin Maxwell was on deck and he was 0 for 6 against Corriea in the past, so a much better matchup for the Twins. Maxwell struck out in the second, but tagged Corriea with an RBI single two innings later.
*In the third inning Brian Dozier was called out on strikes and complained to home plate umpire Bill Welke—a smart catcher can use that. Next time the hitter who complained comes to the plate, set upoff
the plate and see if you get the call.
*Later in the same inning Jason Kubel—who came in to the game hitting .458 off Chen—hit a rocket at Eric Hosmer. Hos did not see it until the last split-second and he almost took it off the lips. If third base is the hot corner with a right-handed hitter at the plate, what’s first base with a lefty swinging the bat?
*In the bottom of the third Omar Infante tripled to right center. If you want to know how a guy triples on a ball that doesn’t make it all the way to the wall, check out where the outfielders were standing to start the play. Chris Colabello was playing in to take away any opposite field flares. When Infante drove the ball in the gap, Colabello had a long run.
*Kurt Suzuki hit a home run over the left-field bullpen fence and the estimated distance was announced as 382 feet. Before the game I asked outfield coach Rusty Kuntz to estimate the distance from home plate to the bullpen gates and he guesstimated 370. That puts Houston’s 315 foot left fence into perspective.
*In the fourth inning Alex Gordon singled, then Colabello misplayed a Billy Butler drive into a double. With runners on second and third Mike Moustakas hit a sacrifice fly to score Gordon, but it also moved Billy to third. That allowed Butler to score on a Justin Maxwell single, so Mike’s sac fly helped score two runs. Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch and then Nori Aoki slashed another single between Trevor Plouffe and third base.
Give some credit to the bunt: Plouffe was playing in on the grass because Aoki has laid down bunts in the past. Some people thought Plouffe didn’t see the ball come off the bat, but standing that close to home plate definitely didn’t help. Small ball tactics—bunts, steals, hit and runs—force infielders to change their positioning and that can result in a base hit.
*In the 8th inning Alcides Escobar made a spectacular play that included a full 360 before he threw the ball to Eric Hosmer at first base. When defenders make plays like that, they encourage pitchers to be aggressive and throw strikes. If a pitcher thinks the guys behind him can’t catch the ball, he might be more inclined to do it himself and go for a strikeout. That’s how pitchers fall behind in counts and leave early because they’ve thrown too many pitches.
"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.