Judging the Royals

‘The Thing’ you never want to mention to a ballplayer

Chicago White Sox catcher Geovany Soto had trouble throwing to second base in a spring training game Tuesday, but don’t ask him about it.
Chicago White Sox catcher Geovany Soto had trouble throwing to second base in a spring training game Tuesday, but don’t ask him about it. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, the Royals had Alcides Escobar on third base and Christian Colon on first. Colon took off for second base on a steal attempt and Chicago catcher Geovany Soto launched an unguided missile into center field. The throw was so off target it drew a gasp from the crowd.

Colon was safe, Escobar scampered home and the Royals were up 4-1.

After watching Soto struggle to throw the ball back to the pitcher — he drops to both knees, braces his glove hand on the ground and makes a weak flip to the mound — it would appear he has “The Thing.”

(I’ve written about this before, but just in case you missed it, “The Thing” is worth writing about again.)

In the big leagues, when a player gets the throwing yips, it’s called “The Thing” and players do not like to talk about it.

Last time I wrote about it I only talked to the Royals coaches, because mentioning “The Thing” to a player is considered decent grounds for a swift punch in the nose. Players don’t want to talk about “The Thing” or think about “The Thing” or even hear “The Thing” mentioned in their presence.

If a player has “The Thing” teammates are reluctant to play catch with him. If he throws one in the dirt or 10 feet over your head, now you start thinking about it.

Think about it enough and what was an easy, unconscious act becomes a difficult conscious one. You become overly aware of your grip on the ball, your arm angle and your release point, and suddenly you airmail a throw.

You just caught “The Thing.”

And if you catch “The Thing,” getting cured can be difficult. Some players never shake it. Careers have been ruined by “The Thing.”

This is why you never mention “The Thing” to a ballplayer and why the Royals are going to run on Geovany Soto every time they get the chance.

So if you feel like saying thanks for this information on “The Thing”… don’t mention it.

Why the Royals ran a safety squeeze

The Royals ran a safety squeeze against the White Sox and it worked. But even if it hadn’t worked the Royals still accomplished something: they showed the Sox — and all the scouts in attendance — that they were willing to run a squeeze play.

As I recently mentioned; stuff like squeeze plays and double steals and pickoff plays go into the scouting report and teams have to account for it.

So this season if you see a Royals hitter swing away and slap a single past a drawn-in third baseman, this spring training safety squeeze probably played a part.

Pitch counts, up-downs and outings

Nathan Karns started against the White Sox and threw six innings and 91 pitches. The Royals want their starting pitchers to reach 90 pitches by the time spring training ends, but the six innings are just as important.

Those six innings meant Karns had five up-downs: throwing, then sitting, then throwing again. Starters have to develop stamina and getting their pitch count up and enduring up-downs is part of how they do it.

Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland says relievers are easier to get ready; they don’t have to develop the same kind of stamina — they’ll probably throw one inning at a time — so relievers just need outings and 11 to 13 outings would be ideal.

If you check the stats you’ll probably notice not all the Royals relievers will get up to 11 outings, but remember, big-league players also go to the back fields and appear in minor-league games to get their work in.

And that brings us to a question.

Where was Jose Quintana?

The Royals are going to play the White Sox 19 times this summer, so the Sox avoided giving the Royals an extra look at their pitcher Jose Quintana. According to Rustin Dodd’s game story, the Sox had him pitch in a minor-league game instead.

If that’s smart baseball, why did the Royals let the Sox have an extra look at Nathan Karns?

Some pitching coaches and managers think trying to hide a pitcher is kinda dumb and probably overrated. Quintana has pitched against the Royals a lot, so Kansas City already has a pretty good idea of what he throws.

And if Quintana has any new tricks up his sleeve I’m guessing the Royals probably had someone there to watch him throw that minor-league game.

And here’s another point worth making: big-league pitchers throwing in minor-league games do not get the same quality of work. They’re not facing big-league hitters and they don’t have a big-league defense behind them.

If you’re working on a pitch — and Karns has been working on his changeup — you might need to face big-league competition to find out just how good that pitch is or isn’t.

You might get away with throwing a mediocre pitch against minor-leaguers, assume you’re in good shape and then find out the pitch needs more work after it gets whacked by the big-leaguers.

The season starts Monday, so there’s not much time left to get ready.

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