There’s a saying in baseball: if you’re going to lose, lose quick. Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes after Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber threw the first pitch of the game to Nori Aoki, he threw the last pitch of the game to Alex Gordon. Kluber is another sinker/slider guy and one look at the scorebook tells you he had the sinker working on Thursday; only two fly ball outs. The Royals were either pounding the ball in the ground or striking out for most of the day.
Kluber was also efficient; 15 pitches per inning is about normal—after three innings Kluber had thrown 34. It got worse; after five innings Kluber had thrown 55 pitches. 11 pitches per inning mean the starter can throw a complete game. When a pitcher is dealing, one of the strategies is to make him work, run his pitch count up, get him out of there and take a shot at the bullpen—maybe one of them will have a bad day.
The Royals were never able to make Kluber work hard and after he got a five-run lead in the fifth inning it only got worse. The Royals were taking pitches, but Kluber was pounding the strike zone. If the Royals took a strike they were falling behind in the count and of the five Royals who didn’t take at least one called strike after the fifth inning, only one of them—Omar Infante—got a hit. Corey Kluber threw a complete game in 101 pitches and beat the Royals 5-1.
If you’re going to lose, lose quick.
On Thursday afternoon that’s just what the Royals did.
A turning point in the game
With the score 1-0 Indians in the bottom of the fifth inning, the left-handed David Murphy came to the plate with the bases loaded. The count ran to 2-2 and then Bruce Chen threw an 84-MPH sinker down and away.
The pitch didn’t match the infield defense.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas was well off the third base line and that allowed the left-handed Murphy to slap Bruce Chen’s version of a fastball down the line to drive in two runs. The Indians took a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
*In the first inning Eric Hosmer turned a nifty double play; stepping on first base to force the batter/runner, Jason Kubel, then throwing home to nail Asdrubal Cabrera trying to score from third base. There was a replay review and the radio guys said it was a "crew chief’s challenge." Apparently the crew chief wanted to see if Brett Hayes had blocked the plate without the ball—he didn’t.
If the catcher has his left foot on the third base line or in fair territory, the runner has a clear path to the back half of the plate. The replay showed Hayes was out in front ofhome plate, but whether he made the tag in time was another question. Apparently there was not enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field and the double play stood.
*In the fifth inning Alcides Escobar made a base running mistake; getting thrown at third base to end the inning. With two down you’re already in scoring position and it’s still—probably—going to require a hit to score you. Escobar was on first when Jarrod Dyson singled up the middle. Esky appeared to be slowing down as he reached second base, but then broke for third. And it’s worse than it sounds: centerfielder Michael Brantley was moving toward third base when he fielded Dyson’s hit. If Brantley were movingaway
from third it’s still a bad idea to make that turn at second, but it might have had a better chance of working.
*If you’re looking for a bright spot; reliever Michael Mariot threw three and two-third innings, gave up one hit, no runs and struck out four. Mariot’s pitching saved the rest of the bullpen for the Baltimore series starting Friday night.
The BP war zone
If you’re a Royals fan you probably already know outfield/first base coach Rusty Kuntz got hit by a line drive during batting practice and broke his wrist. Here’s hoping Rusty is back on the field soon. But Rusty’s wrist brings me to an important point: batting practice may look nice and relaxed, but it’s actually a war zone.
I’ve watched countless hours of batting practice, but when I first started hanging out with professional teams I didn’t realize how structured it was. Watch enough BP and you start to pick up the patterns. The BP pitcher is behind an L-screen and after he throws a pitch he has to make sure he gets every little body part behind that screen; balls are coming off the bat at 100 miles an hour and they arrive at the mound in a heartbeat. In the minors I saw Ron Washington take a line shot off an elbow because he didn’t get it back behind the L-screen.
There’s another protective screen in shallow centerfield. There’s a guy out there with a bucket collecting the baseballs hit to the outfield. Whoever shags those balls will throw it to the guy with the bucket and that means the guy with the bucket has his back to home plate—that’s why he needs a protective screen. Once the bucket is full and he wants to take the collected balls to the BP pitcher, he has to approach the mound on a direct line from second base to home plate—that will keep him behind the pitcher’s L-screen and protect him from line drives.
If the team wants their infielders to get work they’ll set protective screens up in front of the bases. If Mike Moustakas gets a groundball and throws it over to Eric Hosmer, Hosmer needs a screen between him and the batter—he’ll be looking at Mike’s throw, not the hitter.
They’ll put a screen in front of second base if they want their middle infielders working on double plays for the same reason; those guys will be concentrating on double play flips, footwork and relays to first—not the hitter.
To make this all more complicated, coaches will stand off to the side of the batting cage and hit fungos to the infielders, but they have to make sure the hitter didn’t just hit a ball to the same guy; two balls headed at one guy is not a good scenario. Same thing with timing; the coaches have to hit the fungo just after the hitter puts a ball in play.
Watch BP long enough and you recognize a baseball ballet; synchronized movements all over the field—everyone depending on everyone else to be in the right spot at the right time doing the right thing. But if someone breaks the pattern—steps out from behind a screen at the wrong moment or hits a poorly timed fungo—someone can get hurt.
This time it was Rusty Kuntz.
Wednesday night Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected from a game when the umpires found a smear of pine tar on his neck. Pineda was also suspected of using pine tar in an earlier game, but he wasn’t ejected. That time he had it on his hand.
Pitchers use pine tar to get a better grip on the ball especially in cold weather. I’ve heard players—OK, pitchers and catchers—argue that it shouldn’t be considered cheating; they’re just trying to improve their grip. It seems fair to ask why do it if it doesn’t give you an advantage, but that’s a different article.My
question is this: why have a clearly visible smear of pine tar on your neck when there are better ways to do it?
Smart pitchers have their pine tar stowed somewhere other than their neck; specifically first basemen or catchers. If those guys have a glob of pine tar on them—say on the catcher’s shin guards—it’s not so obvious. I’ve heard of some pitchers having a sign that says: "Load this one up for me" and then throw over to first or delivers a pitch home. The teammate loads the ball for the pitcher and the pitcher has no incriminating evidence on him. He can always claim any pine tar on a ball came from a hitter’s bat and that will probably prevent him from being ejected.
Michael Pineda says he’s learned his lesson. Yeah—learn to cheat smarter.