Major league pitchers have the best throwing arms in the world—so why do some of them have such a hard time throwing a baseball accurately when they have to make a play from the field?
Because major league pitchers make thousands and thousands of throws, but the vast majority of them are made from 60 feet, 6 inches. 60 feet, 6 inches, 60 feet, 6 inches, 60 feet, 6 inches. Then suddenly, with a game on the line and an extra quart of adrenaline surging through their bodies, they’re asked to make a throw from 50 feet, 6 inches or 72 feet, 3 inches or 39 feet 8 inches and while making a play under pressure they struggle with the footwork, the release point and the required velocity.
They may run through some PFPs (pitchers fielding practice) during the day, but nothing can accurately duplicate game conditions. Guys who make those throws a lot—the position players—will figure out how to do it. Guys who may be out there every fifth day? Not so much.
Danny Duffy came out to pitch the tenth inning in 2-2 tie and jumped ahead of the first batter, Jonathan Schoop, 0-2. Then Duffy hit Schoop with a 96-MPH fastball. Next the Orioles had David Lough lay down a bunt to move Schoop to second base, but Lough left the bunt too close to the mound. Duffy had a play at second base so he threw the ball to Alcides Escobar. Had the throw been accurate Danny would have gotten the runner.
But when left-handers throw, the ball tends to move laterally to the arm-side. And if the lefty doesn’t get his arm all the way up the lateral movement can be severe. Duffy missed Esky arm-side high and the ball went into centerfield. Escobar got tangled up with the runner, but stayed in the game.
With runners on first and second and nobody out, Jemile Weeks laid down another bunt, Duffy picked it up and this time missed first base arm-side high—the seventh error made by a Royals pitcher this season. Bases loaded, nobody out and Louis Coleman replaced Duffy. The batter was right-handed Nelson Cruz and Coleman struck him out. Then, with the count 2-2 on Nick Markakis, Coleman missed his spot—catcher Brett Hayes was set up inside—and Markakis poked a slider on the outer half down the left field line. Barely fair, but fair enough.
The Royals lost to the Orioles 3-2 partly because some pitchers struggle to make plays from the field.
Starter Jeremy Guthrie gave up a single, a walk, single and two runs in the first inning. He also threw 26 pitches and it looked like it might be short night. After that, Guthrie was lights out and pitched six more innings without giving up a run.
Alcides Escobar doubled to right and Nori Aoki moved him to third with a bunt single. With runners on the corners and one down, Omar Infante needed to get a pitch up in the zone and avoid a double play. But Omar chased a changeup down in the zone and popped up. With two outs Eric Hosmer doubled off the right field wall. If you’re wondering why Nori Aoki did not score from first on a two-ut double—I watched the replay and Aoki broke right away—it might be because that right field wall in Camden Yards is only 318 feet from home plate. If the same ball were hit in Kauffman the ball would have gone past the foul pole at 330 and then caromed around in the corner; Aoki probably would have scored easily.
Infante and Hosmer combined on a difficult 4-3 and it was just one of the outstanding defensive plays made by the Royals infield. The runs and hits you keep off the board are just as important as the runs and hits you put on the board.
After Aoki’s third inning bunt single, Orioles third baseman Ryan Flaherty was playing in. Aoki then hit an infield single past Flaherty. Even an unsuccessful bunt can result in a hit somewhere down the road. In Aoki’s case a bunt resulted in a hit two innings later.
In the bottom of the inning Aoki ran an odd route to a Jemile Weeks fly ball and eventually tipped over and turned the fly ball into a triple. Some outfielders are not comfortable playing in because they’re not comfortable going back.
Guthrie got out of the two-out jam by striking out Nelson Cruz looking. Watch the replay and you’ll see Guthrie pause at the top of his windup. He doesn’t do it all the time, but when Guthrie throws that pause in there, it can mess with a hitter’s timing.
Seventh inning: There were two outs and the count was 2-0 when Eric Hosmer took a fastball strike. Why take a fastball strike when you’re in a fastball count? Probably because there were two outs. If a guy has some pop he may try to get big
with two outs and nobody on—hit a bomb or at least a double and move into scoring position. Hosmer may have been looking for pitch to pull in that count.
In the bottom of the inning Alcides Escobar snagged a one-hop shot for the first out, but the defensive play of the inning might have been Justin Maxwell throwing the ball into second base. With Ryan Flaherty on first Jonathan Schoop hit a single to left center. Flaherty went first to third and even though Maxwell was moving toward third base when he picked the ball up, Escobar and Jeremy Guthrie signaled for Maxwell to throw the ball to second base—forget the runner at third, keep the double play in order.
As long as there’s a runner at first base the pitcher is one pitch away from two outs. David Lough hit into a 4-6-3 and the Royals were out of the inning.
A day off
I haven’t taken a day off since I went to spring training in mid-March, so tomorrow’s a big day. I’ve pretty much watched every pitch of every Royals game for four years and change, but I’ve told my editors that this season I’m going to occasionally need to take a day, especially with a book coming out next month. My son Paul will be filling in for me.
(I think I’ll lie on the couch and watch a ball game.)
"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.