Judging the Royals

The Royals beat the Diamondbacks 12-2: How a blowout can reveal character

The Royals’ Billy Butler (16) greeted teammates Omar Infante (14) and Salvador Perez (13) after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The Royals went on to win the game 12-2.
The Royals’ Billy Butler (16) greeted teammates Omar Infante (14) and Salvador Perez (13) after hitting a three-run home run in the fifth inning Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. The Royals went on to win the game 12-2. The Associated Press

The Kansas City Royals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-2 on Tuesday night, and the game was pretty much over after Nori Aoki hit a grand slam and the Royals scored eight runs in the top of the fifth inning. When a score gets lopsided, a lot of fans lose interest in a ballgame. But if you keep watching, you can learn something.

Next time a score gets out of hand, pay attention: Which players keep hustling, keep putting together good at-bats and keep playing the game the right way? Then ask yourself which players start mailing it in, giving away at-bats and going through the motions.

Games that wind up 12-2 may not be exciting, but they still are worth watching — because a blowout can reveal character.

Game report

(Here’s a summary of the game from my part-time helper, Paul Judge.)

The first inning of Tuesday night’s game between the Royals and Diamondbacks was not indicative of how the game eventually turned out. Arizona’s starting pitcher, Wade Miley, had nice location on his fastball and a solid changeup/slider combo that he could use to get in on right-handed hitters.

Miley got his first two outs on just five pitches and looked solid. On the other side, Danny Duffy struggled a bit in the first. He gave up a run after Jordan Pacheco hit a ground-rule double and Mark Trumbo drove him in with the rare single-off-the-wall — which was caused by Trumbo’s fear of Alex Gordon gunning him down at second.

But perhaps more importantly than the run, Duffy threw 25 pitches in the first inning. Duffy has had issues at times with high pitch counts, which has forced him out of games earlier than he or the Royals would have liked. And after the Diamondbacks’ productive bottom of the first, Duffy was looking at another short night.

Of course, this meant that the Royals’ lineup had a job to do in the top of the second inning: Take pitches, work the count, and try to force Miley’s pitch count closer to that of Duffy.

Alex Gordon works the count; Cain and Moustakas don’t

Alex Gordon recognized his responsibility and executed his job well. Gordon took a first-pitch fastball for a strike, then battled to a 3-2 count, fouling off a couple fastballs and forcing Miley to throw him eight pitches.

Alex got a 3-2 fastball over the plate and hit it hard the other way — but right at Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed, who threw Alex out at first. Though it didn’t result in a hit, Alex did a good job of being patient, taking pitches and forcing Miley to raise his pitch count. It was yet another productive, effective at-bat for Alex.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, both of whom jumped on the first fastballs they saw in the zone. Both flew out on a combined three pitches.

An inning that looked as if it could be a chance to run up Miley’s pitch count turned into an 11-pitch breeze. That meant Miley was already through two innings on 29 pitches, compared with Duffy’s 25 through only one inning.

Gordon did a solid job of recognizing and completing his job to help Duffy. Moustakas and Cain didn’t, and it was a missed opportunity for the Royals.

Duffy struggles with command, then adjusts

After Salvador Perez’s three-run shot in the top of the third, Duffy had the lead handed back to him and looked to be aggressive against opposing pitcher Miley, who was at the plate. But Duffy, who looked to be overthrowing, was leaving everything up throughout that third inning. He walked Miley after getting to a 2-2 count with two straight high fastballs, then struggled to keep his fastball down to Elder Inciarte and Jordan Pacheco. Both Inciarte and Pacheco attacked high fastballs, and Duffy was fortunate to get them both to fly out, but it was still a window of vulnerability that could spell trouble for the Royals.

However, against the next hitter, Aaron Hill, Duffy threw a first-pitch fastball that settled into the lower half of the zone for a called strike. Throughout that at-bat, Danny got his control back and was then able to keep his fastball consistently down, throwing two more and getting Hill to ground out to Alcides Escobar.

It was hard to tell from the view on TV whether Duffy made a physical adjustment, but clearly Duffy changed something, and for the rest of his five innings, he located and commanded his fastball very well down in the zone.

Duffy’s ability to make adjustments like this is a big weapon for him going forward. It will help him get out of jams, and he was able to do just that Tuesday night.

The top of the fifth: a combination of luck and skill

The Royals’ eight-run fifth inning was a thrilling, gratifying streak for an offense that has struggled at times to produce, and both Billy Butler and Nori Aoki deserve credit for being aggressive and jumping on hittable pitches over the plate for both of their home runs. But the Royals didn’t get there without a bit of luck.

After Billy’s home run, with one down, Gordon had a beauty of a 1,000th hit, reaching out and tagging a single down the opposite-field line. Cain got to a 3-2 count, and the Royals put Gordon in motion. Alex took off for second base and Cain didn’t swing — a scary moment that could have led to a strikeout/caught stealing double play.

In fact, Alex was late to second, and Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero’s throw beat him there — but Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill bobbled the catch, and it didn’t matter anyway. The pitch was called a ball, and Cain walked. A possible inning-ending double play turned into a great situation for the Royals’ offense.

After Mike Moustakas flew out for the second out of the inning, with Alcides Escobar at the plate, Lorenzo Cain took off for second — but just a beat too soon. He got caught in a rundown when Miley threw over to Pacheco at first. But somehow, Cain juked Aaron Hill in the base path and dove under his tag, barely making it safely to second.

Meanwhile, Gordon made a very smart play and took off for home during Cain’s rundown, breaking at just the right moment and crossing the plate before Cain got down to second. Again, a play that could have ended the inning had a lucky outcome that helped the Royals’ rally.

After Miley intentionally walked Escobar, Danny Duffy came to bat next and struck out on a 2-2 slider in the dirt, but Montero couldn’t block it and the ball rolled to the backstop. Duffy made it safely to first, loading the bases as Escobar and Cain both advanced — another stroke of luck. Cain rounded third hard, looking to be aggressive just like Gordon had done, but Montero came up looking at third and nearly gunned him down to end the inning. But Cain dove back in safely — another stroke of luck.

The slider to Duffy was Miley’s 100th pitch of the night, and the Royals again got lucky. Miley hit his limit in what was now a blowout, and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson made the decision to bring in reliever Bo Schultz. Aoki came to bat with the bases loaded, and Schultz, as relievers often do, piped a first-pitch fastball right down the middle. Aoki jumped all over it and hit his grand slam, blowing the game wide open and putting it out of reach. It was perhaps the best offensive inning that the Royals have had all season, but they didn’t get there without a bit of luck.

— Paul Judge

Perez and Duffy show all his pitches right away

There are pitchers and catchers who want to go as deep in the ballgame as they can on fastballs and changeups — save the breaking stuff for later at bats when you need something else to show the hitter. In this game, Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy showed the Diamondbacks all his pitches right away.

Jordan Pacheco doubled in the first inning after he saw a fastball for a called strike, a changeup for a ball and then — in a crucial 1-1 count — another changeup. A 1-1 count is considered crucial because the odds are about to tip sharply in somebody’s favor. Go 2-1, and the hitter is in charge. Go 1-2, and the pitcher has the odds on his side.

Perez and Duffy went with another changeup, and the pitch was called a ball. With the count 2-1, they went with a fastball in a fastball count and Pacheco doubled.

Two batters later, Mark Trumbo drove in Pacheco when Sal ask Danny to bounce a curve and Duffy left the curve too high. Duffy had thrown three curveballs before the hanger to Trumbo, and two weren’t strikes. Duffy eventually got better command of the curve, but by the time the first inning was over the Diamondbacks had seen all of Duffy’s pitches.

If the hitter shows up the umpire, you may not need to throw him strikes

In the first inning, Billy Butler was called out on strikes and let the umpire know he disagreed. He dropped his bat and showed disgust, and umpires don’t like that. After his display at the plate, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Billy didn’t get any calls on borderline pitches — but in his next four at-bats Butler singled, homered, singled and doubled.

A smart pitcher and catcher would have stayed away from the heart of the plate and let the home-plate umpire do their work for them.