Wanna know what it’s like covering the Royals?
Well, you’re in luck: This is what I did Friday afternoon and evening. Times are approximate, which is a fancy way of saying I didn’t write them down because I didn’t get the idea for doing it this way until after midnight, so I’m pretty much guessing about what times things happened — but they’re in the ballpark.
2 p.m: Head to Kauffman Stadium.
2:30 p.m: Stow my stuff in the press box and head down to the field to watch early work.
2:35 p.m.: See Rusty Kuntz leaning against the dugout rail and decide to go bug him. Rusty sees me and says he only has time for one question. I ask if Noah Syndergaard was throwing a slider or a cutter on Tuesday afternoon, and Rusty says whatever it was, it was nasty. Between that, a 100-mph fastball and early afternoon shadows, the Royals hitters didn’t have much chance.
2:40 p.m: Talk to head groundskeeper Trevor Vance. He tells me bad outfielders are harder on the turf than good outfielders. Good outfielders move around with the count, bad outfielders stand in one place and kill the grass.
2:50 p.m.: Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland tells me it’s not surprising when pitchers have control problems on Opening Day; they get jacked up by the huge crowd and can then be too “quick” to the plate. Their bodies head toward home plate too soon and that messes up their arm slots and release points.
3:30 p.m.: Rusty (the guy who only had time for one question) finishes up bunting practice and then comes by to talk some more. He says the Royals' schedule has been goofy so far; play on Sunday, Monday off, play on Tuesday and then two more days off. So this Friday night game feels like the real start of the season.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven comes by to say hi to Rusty and I get to meet him. Blyleven is wearing his World Series ring. Turns out Rusty has three World Series rings: one as a player, two as a coach. Maybe someone ought to tell Lucas Duda.
4:50 p.m.: Watch the Royals take BP while talking to Blyleven. He says he used to watch the opposing team take batting practice so he could see what the hitters were working on. Sounds smart, but you don’t see pitchers do it much anymore.
5:30 p.m.: Go over and say hi to Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki. We discuss the possibility of me coming to Minneapolis to watch a series.
5:40 p.m: Go back upstairs to the press box and eat dinner; two hot dogs and some nachos. My doctor says I need to lower my cholesterol and I’m trying. I actually wanted to eat three hot dogs, so I think I’m doing great.
7:15 p.m: The game starts.
First inning: Yordano Ventura needs to throw his off-speed pitches for strikes so hitters don’t just sit on his fastball. Ventura mixes his pitches up, but gives up a walk and a single. He gets through the first without a run scoring, but throws 27 pitches; this will shorten his outing.
Second inning: The Twins strike first: Ventura walks Eduardo Escobar and then gives up a double to Suzuki. Escobar scores. Minnesota’s up 1-0.
In the bottom half of the second the Royals score two runs when Salvador Perez singles, Omar Infante doubles and Reymond Fuentes follows that up with another single. Perez and Infante score, the Royals lead 2-1.
Infante has looked good the first three games of the season. At times Infante has looked like a low-energy guy, but right now he’s playing with some spring in his step. Infante says he’s finally feeling healthy, so maybe that will make a difference. On the other hand, there are 159 games left to go, so time will tell.
Third inning: With Danny Santana at the plate, Eric Hosmer positions himself in on the grass; that can take the bunt for a base hit away. But it’s a deke. When Santana’s focus switches to the pitcher, Hosmer backs up quickly and plays with more depth. The deke works; Santana swings away and hits a hard grounder to Hosmer for the second out of the inning.
Sixth inning: Ventura has made it through five innings with a 2-1 lead, but then walks the first two batters he faces in the sixth. Ned Yost decides to pull him; Luke Hochevar comes in with nobody out and the tying run in scoring position.
After the game I ask Hochevar what that’s like (as opposed to starting a clean inning) and he says he likes it — there’s no room for error. I ask if that makes the warmup even more important and Hochevar says no; but it changes the way he pitches.
The first batter Hochevar faces is Trevor Plouffe, and Hochevar says if he was facing Plouffe with nobody on base, he might start him with a fastball down and away. Most batters will roll over that pitch and hit a groundball, but with the tying run in scoring position Hochevar can’t afford that — a ground ball might sneak through.
Hochevar is looking for strikeouts.
Which is why Hochevar starts Plouffe with a cutter, but two pitches later Plouffe gets the ball in play. It’s a fly ball out, but the runner on second—Joe Mauer—moves to third base. Hochevar gets the strikeout he’s looking for from Byung Ho Park, but with two outs, Eduardo Escobar singles and the game is tied, 2-2.
Later, Hochevar says he’d rather give up four of his own runs than one of somebody else’s.
Eighth inning: The tie is broken when Joakim Soria leaves a slider up and Byung Ho Park parks it over 400 feet away — Twins up, 3-2.
A fan asks Star beat writer Rustin Dodd if it’s too early to freak out about Soria and Rustin says probably. Joakim Soria’s ERA now is 13.50; last year it was 2.53 and it’s 2.64 over Soria’s career — so yeah, probably good to put the freakout on hold after only three games.
With a lead, the Twins replace outfielder Miguel Sano with a defensive upgrade; Eddie Rosario. Danny Santana shifts to right, Rosario goes to left.
After Alex Gordon singles, Salvador Perez hits a sinking liner into the left center gap and Rosario attempts a diving catch; it’s a decision that hurts the Twins. Had Rosario taken a deeper route and kept the ball in front of him, he might have held Perez to a double. The ball gets by Rosario; Gordon scores and Perez chugs into third with a triple. Infante hits a sac fly and the Royals are up 4-3.
Ninth inning: Wade Davis comes in for the final three outs and the save, but with a little help from the home plate umpire, walks leadoff hitter Brian Dozier. Davis punches out Danny Santana, but Dozier steals second. With first base open Davis can work around left-handed Mauer, but he decides to pitch to him ... and the reason Davis does that is interesting.
Look at the matchup numbers and you might think Davis would avoid Mauer (6 for 16, which averages out to .375). But last year Davis told me he pitches to Mauer these days because the Twins first baseman had beaten him enough that Davis knows what not to do. Other hitters might be a bit more of a mystery.
Davis gets a fielder’s choice out of Mauer and then punches out Rosario to end the game.
Nine pitchers were used, over 300 pitches were thrown and 12 walks were issued, so the game takes three hours and 14 minutes.
10:35 p.m.: I trudge down to hear Yost talk about the game, then head to the clubhouse to talk to the players. Ventura talks about his performance, I talk to Hosmer and find out I’m the eleventy-billionth reporter with a Justin Bieber question, and I then spend some time asking Hochevar about coming into a game with runners on base.
Time to go back upstairs, grab my stuff and go home.
11:30 p.m.: Start writing.
8 a.m: Get up and get ready to do it all over again.