According to the box score, 29,480 people attended Friday night’s Royals-Tigers game, but unfortunately Danny Duffy’s slider didn’t show up.
As you might already know, Duffy throws left-handed. That being the case, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus filled out a lineup card that featured six right-handers and three switch-hitters; every Tigers batter would hit from the right side of the plate.
That robbed Duffy of a couple weapons; the front-hip slider and chase slider.
Sliders move from arm-side to glove-side, so with a lefty at the plate Duffy could aim a pitch at the hitter’s front hip, lock him up because it looked like he was going to get hit by the pitch, and then watch as the pitch slides into the zone for a called strike.
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Duffy could also throw a slider that moved from down the middle to out of the zone and hope the hitter chased it for a swinging strike.
With no lefties in the Tigers lineup, those two tactics couldn’t be used. But with all righties in the lineup there were a couple of other tactics available.
With a righty at the plate, the chase slider to a left-hander now becomes a back-foot slider to a right-hander. Now Duffy’s slider down the middle would dive out of the zone down and in, toward a right-handed hitter’s back foot. Duffy could also elevate the same pitch and try to run his slider in on a right-handed hitter’s hands.
With a right-handed hitter Duffy could also throw a backdoor slider, which is basically a front-hip slider to a lefty; start the slider off the plate, headed toward the left-handed hitter’s batter’s box, and then have it dart into the zone at the last moment for a called strike.
So there’s your basic tutorial on how left-handed pitchers use their slider, which sounds awesome unless the lefty doesn’t have his slider working that night.
And Friday night Duffy’s slider wasn’t working.
What happened to Duffy’s slider?
Pitching can be frustrating because all it takes is a miniscule change in mechanics and everything goes ka-blooey. For instance: let your arm drop just a fraction as you deliver a pitch and now your hand is on the side of the ball, not the top. That means a slider will lose downward movement and stay flat, which means it’s a heckuva lot easier to hit.
So whatever went wrong on Friday night it resulted in Duffy’s slider missing, in his own words, “arm-side up.” That means a back-foot slider was now a hanging slider and hittable.
If I counted correctly Duffy threw 28 sliders in 3 2/3 innings and only had three swings-and-misses. The rest were balls, called strikes, fouled off or put in play. So without swing-and-miss stuff, Duffy had a hard time finishing hitters off.
That led to long at-bats and a rising pitch count. After throwing 99 pitches and allowing six earned runs, Duffy was done and so were the Royals.
Why you can’t manage a game from the front office
It’s not the first time I’ve said this and certainly won’t be the last, so get used to it: Numbers tell you what’s happened in the past, but they don’t tell you what’s happening right now.
You can make all the plans you want based on the past, but if things don’t go according to plan you need a new plan right now. The scouting report might say a slider is a good pitch to throw to this hitter in this situation, but what if your pitcher doesn’t have that slider? What if on that particular night his slider isn’t working?
Veteran catchers have some tricks to handle that situation; find a count where you don’t need to throw a strike and throw the slider in the dirt. That way the pitcher can try to find his slider without throwing it in a crucial situation. Or throw it to hitters who can’t hurt you. Or cross-up the hitters by throwing something else when they expect the slider.
I don’t know what Drew Butera and Danny Duffy talked about but if I get a chance I’ll ask Danny and Drew about their Plan B.
Today, Yordano Ventura goes to the mound for the Royals; here’s hoping he brings his curveball with him.
But if he doesn’t have it, the Royals need to come up with a Plan B fast.