Judging the Royals

Lee Judge: Royals are struggling with middle relief in the seventh inning

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Matt Strahm has been struggling at the start of the season.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Matt Strahm has been struggling at the start of the season. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Let’s say you’ve got a bullpen of seven relievers and two of them are really good. You make those two guys your eighth-inning set-up man and ninth-inning closer. But if you only have two shutdown relievers and your starter only goes five innings, someone else has to pitch the sixth and seventh.

That’s why the sixth and seventh innings are considered two of the toughest innings in baseball; they expose your middle relievers.

When the Royals have been really good they’ve had at least three shutdown relievers. When the Royals had Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, middle relievers were less likely to get exposed.

Coming into 2017 the Royals were hoping some combination of Matt Strahm, Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera would handle the seventh, eighth and ninth innings when they had a lead.

Soria’s been outstanding and Herrera’s pitched OK, but Strahm has struggled with his command. That leaves the Royals with a set-up man and closer, but no reliable seventh-inning guy.

And that makes the bridge between the Royals starter and their shutdown relievers an inning longer, and that’s where the bridge has been collapsing, the seventh inning.

Coming in to Monday’s home opener the Royals have won two games. On Friday the Royals won when Jason Vargas went six innings and on Saturday the Royals won when Danny Duffy went seven.

In both cases the starter going deeper helped protect the bullpen.

That’s why Duffy was upset with his three walks in the first game against the Twins; Duffy used 16 pitches to issue those walks and that’s about an inning’s worth of pitches.

Rightly or wrongly, Duffy figured that if he’d thrown more strikes he could have gone seven innings and then Ned Yost could have avoided using Strahm, Peter Moylan and Travis Wood in the seventh — the ball could have gone straight to Soria and Herrera.

Bottom line: Royals starting pitchers need to go deeper in the game or Royals relievers need to step up, provide the team with another shutdown reliever and quit walking people.

And if none of that happens, the seventh inning will continue to be a problem.

Should the Royals get rid of Strahm?

That was the advice of a fan that left a comment on Rustin Dodd’s Sunday game story.

Let me answer that question with another: If you owned a Ferrari that needed the spark plugs changed, would you abandon it?

If you think there are a whole bunch of left-handed pitchers throwing 95 mph with nasty breaking stuff just wandering around the landscape, I’m sure the Royals would like to know where to find them.

Strahm is a still a kid and has less than 24 big league innings under his belt. Everybody who knows what they’re looking at thinks Strahm is going to be very good and has a very bright future as a big league pitcher.

You don’t abandon Ferraris; you fix them.

An inside look at tag plays

On Sunday the Royals had several outstanding defensive plays including one where Mike Moustakas blocked a runner — Carlos Correa — from reaching third base.

Someone on Twitter wanted to know if that was legal, and since I don’t have time to write long explanations to brief questions during a game, I’ll answer that question now.

Here’s the part of the rulebook that applies:

Rule 6.01(h) Comment (Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment): If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball.

An infielder has the right to be in the base path if he’s fielding the ball. So smart infielders make sure they’re in the base path when fielding a throw. As they catch the ball, they put their foot or knee in front of the base to block the runner’s progress.

Now here’s what smart base runners do in response; they come in spikes high.

If an infielder wants to get in the way, come in feet first with your spikes up and make him pay the price. That’s why some infielders won’t do what Moose did; they’ll stand off to one side and then try to reach in and tag the runner high on the body.

They avoid getting spiked, but may lose an out.

This is one way for fans to tell the difference between tough guys and posers.

Now here’s another infield trick: if the runner is out make the tag and show the umpire the ball. The umpire will want to know if you controlled the ball after the tag and you’re showing him you did.

If the runner is safe leave the tag on him in case he comes off the bag. And if the runner doesn’t come off the bag on his own, you might use that tag to give him a little shove. Frank White said he was just helping the runner get where he was going.

And really slick infielders will get between the umpire and the play.

Umpires want to call runners out because it moves the game along. So if the umpire doesn’t see the play and he’s in doubt, the infielder might get the call.

Of course replay is making all these tricks a little harder to use, but if the infielder is smart enough and has the guts to get in a runner’s way, he can still block runners off the bag.

So give Moose some credit.

It’s Opening Day

The editors at the Star seem to be in doubt; some want Opening Day capitalized, some think opening day should be in lower case. As far as I’m concerned Opening Day should be a national holiday (I might run for president on that platform) and deserves capital letters.

The Royals play the Oakland Athletics at 3:15 Monday and I hope to see you there.