Omar Infante erred on Monday night, Royals manager Ned Yost explained on the subsequent afternoon. In the ninth inning of an eventual extra-innings loss to the Padres, Infante worked a 3-0 count against reliever Alex Torres.
Infante responded by pumping a 91-mph fastball over the heart of the plate, the sort of pitch that causes the salivary glands of hitters to water. Then came the mistake: Infante swung. He flied out to left.
Unlike the team’s core of projected power hitters, Infante does not have clearance to swing at 3-0 pitches, Yost explained. The team is now 1-for-6 when they put a ball in play on a 3-0 pitch (they have worked walks in their 17 other plate appearances that end 3-0, and, in general, have a 1.321 OPS when working the count to 3-0).
The sample size is far from meaningful. But it is enough to draw the attention of general manager Dayton Moore, who has spoken with both Yost and hitting coach Pedro Grifol about their approach in those spots.
Yost dispatched Grifol to speak with Infante before Tuesday’s game. Infante never looked for a sign. A similar scenario unfolded a couple weeks ago, when outfielder Nori Aoki singled on a 3-0 pitch. He, too, was working without the green light from the bench.
But otherwise …
“We’re talking about four 3-0 swings?” Yost asked before Tuesday’s game.
Indeed, it appears we are. As Yost lamented during the conversation, these are the things that happen during a losing streak. Each facet of their game comes under heightened scrutiny.
So Yost offered an explanation for his team’s strategy. A quintet of hitters receive the green light in certain situations. All are chosen because of their ability to hit a home run: Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and, Mike Moustakas (even if Moustakas is batting .158).
“We green-light our power hitters with one out,” Yost said. “Never with no outs. And only if it has a point in the game where it can tie us, give us the lead, or add on. We’re not green-light swinging down two without a runner on. We don’t do that.”
And why do they receive the green light?
“A lot of times, it’s going to be the best pitch you’re going to see the rest of the at-bat,” Yost said.