Opinion

Ask Andy: Will Wade Davis take over as closer?

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis was greeted by teammates after getting out of the eighth inning during a game in June.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis was greeted by teammates after getting out of the eighth inning during a game in June. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

It’s been a busy week for the Royals. They optioned Yordano Ventura to Omaha for less than 24 hours. They lost Jason Vargas for the season. They won a tough series against Pittsburgh and dropped a makeup game to St. Louis on Thursday.

The trade deadline is approaching, so let’s answer some questions in The Star’s weekly mailbag.

Of course they are concerned. Ned Yost did not cite fatigue as the source of Perez’s hitting troubles, which mostly revolve around his ability to get on base. Perez entered Thursday’s game against St. Louis with a .269 OBP, 20 points below last year’s previous career low. Perez will always be an aggressive hitter, but the Royals keep reminding him he needs to be more selective at the plate.

“If they’re not going to throw you strikes, and you keep swinging at it, they’re going to continue doing it,” Yost said. “You’re never going to get anything to hit. So sooner or later, the realization comes in, ‘Hey, if I want to really be the offensive player that I can be, I’m going to have to start having at-bats where if the pitcher’s going to walk me, I’m going to take the walk. Rather than trying to force the issue.’”

He added, “The problem is that he’s such good bad-ball hitter. He’s got great hand-eye coordination. He’s got great pitch recognition. He just needs to continue to develop his plate discipline.”

But what can the Royals do? Fine Perez every time he swings at a 2-0 pitch that would have been ball three? Bench him if he goes a week without seeing a three-ball count? That’s one of the problems with development at the big-league level: The teams have no recourse. The coaches have been beating their heads against a proverbial wall for years trying to remind Perez the importance of discipline. It’s up to him to change his habits.

I posed this exact question, more or less, to general manager Dayton Moore.

“There are three things that have to happen,” Moore said. “The player has to have ability. The player has to be performing. And there has to be an opportunity. So I just don’t know how to get him an opportunity right now.

“He has ability. He’s performing. There’s just not the right opportunity right now.”

I am going to put this simply, because I suppose it is hard for some folks to understand: The Royals believe Yordano Ventura, even a diminished version of Yordano Ventura, is a better option than Lamb. Earlier in the season, they believed Joe Blanton, even at 34 and a year removed from retirement, was a better option than Lamb for a series of spot starts.

They do not arrive at these judgments on a whim. They are based on extensive meetings between the front office and the coaching staff.

It’s not necessarily a knock on Lamb, who has obviously done enough to earn a shot with most clubs. The Royals are not most clubs. They have the best record in the American League, and their eyes are firmly trained on the World Series. It is hard for a rookie to break in with a team like that, even a rookie who is pitching well in the minors.

If Lamb had a 1.00 ERA, he would probably leave the organization no choice. But he’s got a 2.75 ERA for Class AAA Omaha, which is good but not overwhelming. In his last outing, he could not finish the fifth inning. That was against the Nashville Sounds. In his outing before that, he struck out 10 but only went five innings. That was against the Iowa Cubs.

The Houston Astros are a much better baseball team than the Nashville Sounds or the Iowa Cubs (though Kyle Schwarber was on that Iowa team, at the time). The Royals feel a pitcher like that would be better served gaining seasoning in the minors, especially given that this is his first successful season since Tommy John surgery in 2011.

John Lamb’s time is coming, Royals officials say. He’ll almost certainly earn a September call-up, likely as a reward for his performance this year. But he is not expected to play a major role in 2015.

Let’s handle this in two parts.

Part 1: Wade Davis is a more reliable pitcher than Greg Holland. You know this. I know this. The Royals know this. The rest of baseball knows this.

It will almost certainly not change how manager Ned Yost deploys his relievers, unless Holland experiences an extreme string of failure. I’m not talking about one or two blown saves. Think Jim Johnson in Oakland last year, or Steve Cishek with Miami this past April and May.

Holland has obviously regressed this season. He landed on the disabled list with an arm injury for the first time in his big-league career. His 3.34 ERA is nearly a run and a half higher than his 1.86 ERA from 2011 to 2014. His fastball velocity is still down to 93.6, two ticks below his career average, according to FanGraphs. His strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up. He does not look the same pitcher, in terms of his ability to consistently control his slider and splitter.

But — and this is the sort of rope that is handed to two-time All-Stars — Holland has only blown three saves this season. He has yet to be charged a loss. So despite the obvious concern, it is difficult to imagine Holland losing his closing role until he actually begins to cost the team baseball games. He still hasn’t done that.

Part 2: It doesn’t really matter what order you use Davis and Holland. Holland can still blow a game in the seventh or the eighth, or even the sixth. The inning itself does not matter. No matter when he pitches, he will face big-league hitters. The challenge for him is the same, getting a handle on his breaking stuff to complement a fastball with reduced life.

So, really, the issue is not when will Davis supplant Holland. The issue is how can Holland correct himself so his struggles do not manifest during a critical juncture in October.

The team runs a three-man bench. On Wednesday, for example, those three players were Paulo Orlando, Dusty Coleman and backup catcher Drew Butera. Ned Yost typically does not like to pinch-hit for his starters, and there are few other opportunities for him to do so, unless it’s using Orlando to hit against a left-handed reliever for Jarrod Dyson.

1. Luke Hochevar is under contract for 2016. So, unless he gets traded, he will be back.

2. Balbino Fuenmayor, the legend from the Frontier League, has two obstacles in his path to the majors. The first he can control, the second he cannot.

The first: He needs to hit. This has not been a problem for him in 2015. He moved to Omaha after clobbering the Texas League, and in his first 15 games for the Storm Chasers, he’s hitting .400/.394/.615, with two homers, six doubles and a triple. He’ll need to keep it up, though. Prospects like Fuenmayor — older, bat-only players — need to hit and hit and hit and hit and hit (and hit) all the way through the minors. Otherwise, teams can give up on them.

The second issue: He’s not on the 40-man roster. That can be massaged, as there are some spots where Kansas City could make a move. But it is an obstacle.

The rules of the collective bargaining agreement state that when a player is acquired via a midseason trade, the player cannot be tendered a qualifying offer before hitting free agency. So the point is moot.

Yes, they do. He is working out of relief because the team felt that would be more productive than waiting for him to build up his pitch count, and potentially experiencing yet another setback. There was some hope he would build up strength as the season went along, and maybe work in the rotation. But he’s been limited to two-inning stints with Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

The plus side? He’s been tremendous. Dominant. He’s given up one run in 11 innings for the Naturals. He’s struck out 15. He looks like a potential September call-up, even if he’s not yet on the 40-man roster.

I would like to write fiction, but it’s hard to find the time. I spend most days at the ballpark. In my downtime, I write mailbags and fight strawmen on Twitter. But someday I’m going to read that copy of “How Fiction Works” by James Wood, and I’m sure it will all click into place.

Wrestling is for losers. Grow up, dorks.

I’m REALLY enjoying turning heel on wrestling.

“‘The Natural!’” Kuntz shouted, loud enough for the entire room to hear, just past 10 a.m. one morning last weekend.

Then he thought about it for a second. No, no. Not “The Natural,” despite his marked resemblance to Robert Redford. His favorite movie is “Gladiator.” But the movie he watched the most was “Miracle,” which is the only film on his iPad.

His favorite baseball movie?

“A League of Their Own.”

Kuntz identified with Jimmy Dugan, the drunken manager portrayed by Tom Hanks. He referenced this scene, where Dugan attempts to gently explain to one of his players the necessity of hitting the cutoff man, as the essence of coaching. Dugan had tried the aggressive approach. It didn’t work. So he regrouped.

Kuntz impersonated Hanks, right down to the shaking hands, as he explained what the scene meant to him. It was beautiful.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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