New hitting coach George Brett held a press conference earlier this week and someone brought up the subject of home runs. George said he had 317 of them and had hit about five when he was trying—the other 312 just happened. The way George figures it; he tried to hit a home run about a thousand times and five for a thousand is not a good average. On the other hand, Brett also figures he’s 312 for 312 when he wasn’t trying.
George Brett believes home runs are the product of a good swing: just take good swings—and the home runs will happen. Brett’s not the only who believes this. Fred McGriff was once asked how he hit 30 home runs year after year and McGriff said there was a certain pitch in a certain location that he would hit for a home run—30 times a year someone threw it to him. In other words; there’s no point in trying to hit a home run—you can’t do it unless you get the right pitch. And if you get the right pitch, it’ll just happen.
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Twenty minutes before Brett’s press conference started I was talking hitting with Eric Hosmer. If you’re worried about the young hitters listening to a 60-year old, you don’t need to worry about Hos. He was quoting Brett like he was Chairman Mao: "Hard, not far" was Brett’s hitting mantra—and now it’s Hosmer’s. Ask him about hitting the ball the other way versus pulling it and Eric says he doesn’t care where the ball goes; he just wants to hit it hard somewhere.
You want to know how to hit home runs? According the one of the greatest hitters who ever lived—stop trying.
(Apparently Lorenzo Cain stopped trying in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Twins. Cain got a 3-1 fastball and hit it 396 feet. Lorenzo’s two-run homer put the game away and the Royals went on to win, 7-3.)
First inning: This one got off to a bad start—Mike Moustakas threw the ball away on a routine 5-3 and the Twins leadoff hitter, Jamey Carroll, wound up on second base. Carroll moved up to third on Joe Mauer’s groundout and then scored when Wade Davis struck out Josh Willingham. The ball was a breaking pitch in the dirt, it kicked away from catcher Salvador Perez and Carroll crossed home plate while Willingham made it safely to first base. If you were sitting there thinking: what else can go wrong? You soon found out. Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis tried to get a cutter in on Ryan Doumit’s hands, didn’t get it in far enough and the Royals were down by three runs on an error, a strikeout and a homer.
Second inning: Ned Yost has been saying, just wait, the offense will soon come to life. If you have to watch 162 Royals games, you really hope he’s right. Before the game I got some time with Ned and asked if he was crediting Wednesday night’s win to the new lineup and he said, "Not really." Yost believes that until the Royals start doing a better job of pitch selection, they’ll scuffle. Thursday night they appeared to do a better job of pitch selection.
Billy Butler started things off with a single, Mike Moustakas also singled and so did Lorenzo Cain. Billy advanced 90 feet at a time and I wondered if this was going to be a replay of what happened in Texas: Billy gets on to start an inning and two more hits aren’t enough to score him. It started to look that way when David Lough hit a weak grounder to third with the bases loaded and Billy was forced out at the plate on a fielder’s choice. Then Chris Getz turned the inning around by singling sharply to left. The depth of the Twin outfield—they play deep—meant a long run to the ball and two runs scored while that was happening.
Third inning: The score was now 3-2 and after your team scores, you want a "shutdown inning" to follow. Give up even one run and the other team thinks they’re getting back in the game or keeping you down. Wade Davis gave the Royals their shutdown inning, but it took some doing. Carroll lined out, Mauer walked, Willingham was hit by a pitch and Justin Morneau singled to left. Fear of Alex Gordon probably kept the Twins from sending Mauer home. After that Doumit struck out and Chris Parmelee hit a groundball to second.
Fourth and fifth innings: More of the same. According to Ned Yost after the game, Davis can struggle with his mechanics throughout a game. He’ll throw a couple great pitches, then miss with a couple, make an adjustment and get back into synch. The problem with this approach is even though Wade’s not giving up runs, he’s throwing pitches and often winds up with a pitch count of 100 around the fifth inning. That means the bullpen has to come up with four innings, not two. Fortunately, the pen was in good shape—don’t forget the 3 and two-thirds inning Bruce Chen ate up in game one of the series—and Luke Hochevar, Tim Collins and Greg Holland were able to provide four innings of shutout ball.
Sixth inning: Take this as a public service announcement; a ball got smoked pretty much sideways—I think it was off Jamey Carroll’s bat—and a woman sitting behind the first-base dugout got hit. People who are around the ballpark all the time—and that includes players—wince when they see people sitting close to the action and not paying attention. Put down the cellphone when the game’s on; especially if you have kids with you. And if you do bring your kids, take the seat closer to home plate.
Back to the game.
In the bottom of the sixth it looked like the Twin starter, Mike Pelfrey, was starting to get his sinker up in the zone. Hard-hit outs tell you something and Alex Gordon lined out to left. Hosmer doubled the other way and Salvador Perez singled to right. If you ever asked yourself why all outfielders don’t play deep and keep everything to a single, it’s because too much drops in and when it does, outfielder s have a long run to the ball. Right fielder Chris Parmelee’s throw came in high and Perez was smart enough to move up to second base when he saw the ball was too high to be cut off and redirected.
Sal didn’t score, but it was good base running.
Eighth inning: Jared Burton was on in relief and he started Alex Gordon with a changeup for a ball. Apparently Alex thought with the count 1-0 Burton would throw a fastball, so Gordon geared up to do damage—Burton threw another change and Alex was out in front. OK, no way Burton throws three changeups in a row, right? Burton did and once again, Alex looked out in front. Burton had Gordon 1-2 and threw yet another changeup for a ball—that’s four in a row. Burton threw a fifth changeup, Gordon fouled it off and now Burton was finally ready to throw a fastball; he’d slowed Gordon’s bat down with all those changeups. Seems like Alex didn’t agree with that strategy: Gordon hit the fastball it appeared he’d been looking for into left-center for a double.
With the score tied, the winning run—Gordon—on second base and Greg Holland getting ready to come in and close the game if the Royals could ever grab a lead, Eric Hosmer came to the plate. At a minimum, Hosmer had to pull the ball to the right side of the field and make sure Gordon moved to third. Hos did better than that—he pulled the ball and hit it through the hole between second and first for an RBI single. Salvador Perez then hit into a fielder’s choice and that brought Billy Butler to the plate.
Afterwards Billy told me he knew Burton had a good changeup and he’d just hit a weak groundball if he tried to pull it. Butler wanted to stay under the ball and take it the other way—and he did. Butler hit a double down into the right field corner and Salvador Perez scored all the way from first. Elliot Johnson came up to run for Billy, moved to third on Mike Moustakas’ groundball to second and was standing there when Lorenzo Cain got that 3-1 fastball.
You know the rest.
George Brett, hitting instructor
George became the Royals hitting instructor when the team was on the road, so when the Royals got back to town a whole bunch of media people showed up to talk to him. In fact, there were so many requests they decided to hold the press conference I referred to at the beginning.
Now the media has gone away and it’s just George and his hitters—and one guy with too much time on his hands, sitting in the dugout watching. The other day the Royals had early hitting and worked for 45 minutes in a light rain. Thursday it was another half an hour of early hitting with George on the mound doing the pitching. Brett is very hands-on as an instructor: guys hit and he’ll grab them as soon as they come out of the cage. He’ll pick a bat himself to show them what he’s talking about. He’s demonstrating, tweaking, adjusting. Some hitting instructors stand silently at the back of the cage and spit once in a while—George is very active.
Thursday’s practice saw George on the mound, staring in and shaking off an imaginary catcher’s signs. Apparently, some of the Royals hitters have been getting ready too soon, allowing the pitcher to take his time delivering the pitch and getting tighter and tighter while they waited in their stance. George’s hitting instructor—Charlie Lau—believed all good hitter’s had rhythm. They’d move in some rhythmic way while they waited on the pitcher; rocking back and forth, moving their hands—like a car revving its engine before taking off.
It’s easier to be quick if you’re already moving.
So George was taking his time on the mound, pretending to shake off his catcher while the hitter’s waited. Chris Getz was smart enough to call time from an imaginary umpire (hey, if George gets an imaginary catcher, Getzie can have an imaginary umpire). Bottom line: Brett is trying to get the hitters to relax and slow the game down. When that happens, their pitch selection will improve and when that happens, the offense should take off.
I don’t know if what George Brett is doing will work, but I know he’s really working at it: the Royals are taking extra BP again tomorrow.