The other day Whit Merrifield was at the plate and executed a hit-and-run perfectly. The runner on first base broke with the pitch and when the second baseman went to cover the bag, Merrifield hit the ball through the vacated right side of the infield.
The hit-and-run showed Merrifield could handle the bat and gives Ned Yost another option when Merrifield is at the plate.
Wednesday evening, I talked with two scouts from other organizations and they expressed admiration for what the Royals have accomplished. They also said a good team forces you to play good baseball.
Here’s what they meant.
Never miss a local story.
A lot of kids grow up playing in showcases and tournaments designed to get them noticed. If hitters want to get noticed, they don’t want to bunt or move runners over because that doesn’t grab anyone’s attention. They want to swing for the fences and put up eye-catching stats. Pitchers don’t learn to pitch; they throw as hard as they can and try to light up the radar gun.
So if these kids do get noticed and eventually sign pro contracts, they might not know how to get a bunt down, hit the ball to the right side or throw a good changeup. They’re talented, but they still have to be taught how to play the game.
The scouts I talked to thought the Royals play the game right: They bunt when necessary, move runners over, steal bases and play sound defense.
Wednesday night, in the second inning of a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Omar Infante singled, Jarrod Dyson bunted him into scoring position and Drew Butera drove him in — just like it’s drawn up in the manual.
A couple innings later, Dyson walked, stole second and Butera moved him to third with a ground ball to the right side. Then Alcides Escobar got Dyson home with a sac fly. Once again, textbook baseball.
The other night, Butera executed a safety squeeze to perfection.
This is what the scouts were talking about. The Royals use all the tricks in the book, and you better know how to execute a hit-and-run, a safety squeeze or get a bunt down if you want to play for Kansas City. If you can’t do those things, you better hit the heck out of the baseball ... and if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be around for long.
When Eric Hosmer turns what should have been a routine single into a hustle double, it sends a message to the new kids: This is how we play, and we expect you to show the same kind of effort.
And that’s how a good team forces you to play good baseball.
But the Royals aren’t perfect
The Royals are making mistakes but still winning. That’s what Ned Yost said after Tuesday night’s win over the Rays.
Cheslor Cuthbert covered third when he shouldn’t have and it cost the Royals a run. Butera made a base-running mistake and handed the other team an easy out.
Even good teams makes mistakes, but those teams also realize they made a mistake and get it cleaned up as soon as possible. It’s OK to make a mistake, just don’t keep making the same one.
Pay attention to swings and misses
On Tuesday night, Chris Young pitched three scoreless innings and threw 57 pitches. Assuming I counted right, Young got 11 swings-and-misses.
Last Saturday, Yordano Ventura pitched seven innings, coughed up seven runs — six earned — threw 107 pitches. Again, if I counted right, he got four swings-and-misses.
Scouts think swings-and-misses are important because they indicate that a pitcher is throwing with deception and movement. Young says hitters will let you know how you’re doing, and the hitters seem to be saying that Young might throw in the high 80s but has stuff that plays better than that. Ventura throws in the high 90s, but opposing hitters seem to be saying his stuff doesn’t play as well as you’d expect.
When Kelvin Herrera throws a breaking pitch and Evan Longoria swings and misses, that tells you it was a pretty good breaking pitch.
Danny Duffy’s fastball averaged 93.6 mph last season. In 2016, it’s 96.0. When a pitcher goes to the bullpen, he can cut it loose because he knows he’s only going to be out there for one inning.
And throwing out of the pen taught Duffy a lesson that he’s been mindful of since returning to the starting rotation: He has a really good fastball. He not only throws it hard, but it has late life, it isn’t dying as it reaches home plate and it seems to jump at the hitter. Duffy has said he wants to use that bullpen approach as a starter and come right at the hitters he faces.
You’d be smart to wonder if Duffy can maintain his velocity up over longer outings. Wednesday night, Duffy pitched six innings and was still throwing his fastball between 95 and 97 mph in the sixth — and that’s good.
Next time Duffy pitches, keep your eye on the radar gun, especially in the later innings.