Judging the Royals

The mental mistake that helped cost Madison Bumgarner the ballgame

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas reached first ahead of the tag from San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner during Wednesday’s game at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas reached first ahead of the tag from San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner during Wednesday’s game at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Madison Bumgarner is a World Series champ, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger award winner and one of the best pitchers in the world.

But even the best pitchers in the world need to cover first base.

In the fifth inning of a tie game with two outs and Paulo Orlando on third base on Wednesday, Mike Moustakas hit a ball to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt.

Anytime a ball is hit to a pitcher’s left he’s supposed to break toward first base. Not sometimes; anytime.

If a pitcher waits to see if he’s needed to cover first base he’s going to be late and that’s what happened to Bumgarner. He turned to watch the play, saw Belt bobble the ball and then started running.

Too late.

Mike Moustakas hustled out of the box and made a headfirst slide into the bag and that helped Moose avoid being tagged out by Bumgarner after Belt got Mad Bum the ball.

Orlando scored and the Royals were up 1-0.

Eric Hosmer isn’t out of it yet

In the eighth inning, the Royals would add a tack-on run after Eric Hosmer doubled to left field. Hosmer also lined out earlier in the game, so he hit the ball hard in two of his four at-bats, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of his “unfortunate” period.

(Ballplayers don’t like the word “slump.”)

Hosmer is 6-foot, 4-inches tall and has long arms; so it’s not uncommon to see pitchers try to jam Hosmer with inside pitches. If Hosmer tries to get to those pitches by opening up his front shoulder his head will follow his shoulder and his bat will drag through the zone.

In the fifth inning, Hosmer fouled off two pitches to the left side; his bat was late. In the eighth inning, his bat was late again, but this time the ball stayed fair and he doubled.

Hosmer knows he’s doing this — he told me he was pulling off some hittable pitches — but knowing what you’re doing wrong and fixing it are two different things.

One reason Jason Vargas has been so good: location

To demonstrate why Jason Vargas has been so good, I went back and looked at all the pitches he threw Wednesday night. MLB’s Gameday shows a strike zone divided into nine areas: three across the top, three across the middle and three across the bottom.

The zone a pitcher wants to avoid is the “middle-middle” one; in the middle of the zone both horizontally and vertically.

Vargy threw 92 pitches and not one of them was completely within that middle-middle zone and only six were mostly within the zone. And if a hitter is having to cover up-and-in and down-and-away he’s got a good chance of missing one of Vargy’s six mistakes.

Pitching is like real estate: it’s location, location, location.

Game notes

▪ We like to play armchair psychologist with players, but it’s unlikely Hosmer is scuffling because he’s worried about getting a big contract in 2018. Before the game, coach Mike Jirschele said players are not thinking about next year when they’re at the plate; they’re trying to win this game right now.

▪ If you wondered how much these guys really want to win, think about the Moustakas’ slide at first; big-league ballplayers are some of the most competitive people on earth and they don’t like to be lose or be embarrassed.

▪ So far Joakim Soria is pitching great in 2017. This is one of the reasons teams don’t give up on players every time they hit a rough patch. If the player has shown the talent and the player isn’t hurt, be patient.

▪ In the ninth inning, Kelvin Herrera got tagged with a wild pitch, but Salvador Perez’s blocking attempt didn’t help. Blocking means just that; drop down, stay down and take the ball off the body if necessary. But all too often, Salvy tries to glove the ball and avoid getting whacked.

▪ Hunter Pence might be the most awkward-looking good player ever; he’s all elbows and knees and he’s hard to defend. Jirschele said you could plan to pitch him in and he’d go to the opposite field or plan to pitch him away and he’d pull the ball.

Mike Jirschele thrills a young fan

So it’s Wednesday afternoon and Mike Jirschele and I are talking about the play at the plate that had everyone else talking about the tag Salvador Perez made on Tuesday night. I told Jirschele that Raul Mondesi’s throw to the plate had been described as a bad one and Jirsch completely disagreed.

Jirsch thought Mondy had mishandled the ball to start the play, but then had to throw flat-footed from the outfield and had a strong enough arm to beat the runner and not many second baseman could make that throw.

I asked about the ball bouncing and Jirsch said Mondy had to keep the throw low; throw it chest high and Salvy doesn’t get the tag down in time. Mondesi may have failed at the plate twice, but the score would not have been tied without his defense.

About then Jirsch heard a tour guide tell a group of visitors that they had to stay on the warning track and if any of them stepped on the grass they might get thrown out of the stadium. (Teams are very particular about their grass and it’s reserved for the players and coaches; they don’t like media members or visitors walking on it.)

So Jirsch said wait a minute and walked over and put his arm around a kid that looked like he was about 14. The kid looked shocked, but happy to suddenly find a Royals coach’s arm around him and Jirsch told the kid to come with him.

Out on the grass.

Jirsch then asked: “Now is anybody throwing you out of the stadium?”

The kid grinned and said no and Jirsch walked him back to his group and said he just wanted to demonstrate that walking on the grass wouldn’t get you tossed.

On the other hand, as Jirsch walked away he looked back at the kid, grinned and said: “But don’t try it without me.”

Lee Judge: 816-234-4482, @leejudge8