Judging the Royals

Lee Judge on location: Baseball stuff from the interview room at FanFest

Jarrett Schroeder, 4, shows Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain where he would like him to sign his baseball at FanFest inside Bartle Hall.
Jarrett Schroeder, 4, shows Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain where he would like him to sign his baseball at FanFest inside Bartle Hall. jsleezer@kcstar.com

As I mentioned in a previous post, it was a somewhat uncomfortable encounter this weekend as the Royals returned to Kansas City for the first time since teammate Yordano Ventura died in a car accident on Jan. 22.

Some of them welcomed baseball questions as a distraction from talking about the tragedy.

Christian Colon

Colon said he’d spent the winter working out with Alex Gordon and (no surprise) lost quite a bit of body fat. Colon hopes to compete for the starting job at second base.

Whit Merrifield

Like Colon, Merrifield is hoping he can earn the second baseman’s job. But the real spot he’s shooting for is simply being “in the lineup.” He’ll play wherever the Royals need him, but he admitted it’s easier to get in a groove and stay there when he’s playing every day.

Eric Hosmer

Hosmer said he was going to spring training a couple weeks early; when he was asked why, he said it was so he could finally get some good batting practice in; his friends back home threw horrible BP.

Hosmer also said he plans to spend the extra time working with the Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum.

Matt Strahm

Strahm said he’ll pitch as a starter or reliever; he’s happy in either role. You get the sense he just wants to be a Kansas City Royal and isn’t going to complain about pitching out of the bullpen.

This winter, he has been working out as if he were going to be starter, but said he’ll adjust if it turns out he’s going to be a reliever.

If you spend the winter working out to pitch as a reliever and then get asked to start, you have to get your endurance up as quickly as possible. If you work out as if you’re going to be starting and then get asked to relieve, it’s easier to cut back and plan on giving it everything you’ve got for 15 to 20 pitches.

Strahm throws a fastball, slider, curve and change, so I asked if he’d drop one of those pitches if he was asked to throw in relief. He said no, but he admitted a starting pitcher has to pitch to contact more than a reliever. If a starting pitcher tries to strike everyone out, he’s going to throw a lot of pitches and probably won’t go deep in a game.

A reliever can throw his nastiest stuff and go for punchouts because he probably won’t be out there that long anyway.

Nathan Karns

The Royals’ new pitcher said he’d rather start than relieve; that’s what he’s trained for.

But we also talked about how time in the bullpen can help a pitcher become a better starter — just look at Danny Duffy. Pitching in relief forces a pitcher to come right after hitters: If you’re only going to face one guy or throw one inning, you want to throw your best stuff.

Karns has been playing around with adding a slider to his collection of pitches. In the past, Karns threw a fastball, curve and changeu; he wants a secondary pitch that looks more like a fastball coming out of his hand.

Karns said pitchers don’t have to miss a bat completely; all they have to do is miss the barrel. So I asked if his slider was a weak-contact pitch or a swing-and-miss pitch, and Karns said he wasn’t sure yet. He’d have to throw it to batters and see how they react.

He also plans on making his changeup a bigger part of his game. If a pitcher throws a pitch less than 10 percent of the time, smart hitters eliminate it. Why look for a pitch that you’ll only see seven or eight times a game?

Karns wants to throw the changeup more often and throw it to right-handed hitters at times. Changeups often have movement to the pitcher’s arm side, so right-handed hitters don’t expect to see right-handed pitchers throw one. Most pitchers aren’t keen on throwing mid-80s pitches on the inner half of the plate.

But Karns thinks if it’s a good enough changeup, thrown at the right time, it can still be effective.

Ned Yost

When Yost was asked a baseball question, he said now was not the time.

He said he knows the 2017 season will be upon the Royals soon enough; this weekend was a time to come together and help each other through the death of Ventura.

After that, there didn’t seem to be a hell of a lot worth asking him ... so I didn’t.

There will always be time for more questions, and if someone needs time to grieve, we can all afford to wait to hear the answers. Life goes on, but it doesn’t always have to go on immediately.

So stay tuned; when I have something worth writing about, you’ll be the first to know.