Judging the Royals

Ian Kennedy and the call that changed the game

Ian Kennedy: 'I wish I could blame it on my leg'

Royals starter Ian Kennedy allowed five earned runs in three innings in a 6-5 loss on Wednesday.
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Royals starter Ian Kennedy allowed five earned runs in three innings in a 6-5 loss on Wednesday.

Look at a line score from Wednesday night’s Royals game and the third inning will definitely jump out at you; the Detroit Tigers scored four of their six runs in that inning.

Dig deeper and one pitch in that inning might jump out at you; ball four to Andrew Romine.

It was actually strike three, but home plate umpire Will Little missed the call and Romine walked.

Had Little made the right call, it would have been the second out of the inning and the next batter, Alex Avila, would have provided the third. And if Kennedy had gone 1-2-3 in the third, the final score might have been quite different.

Umpires miss pitches — that’s part of baseball — but when an umpire is missing pitches consistently, it changes the game.

In the first inning, Little called a strike a ball with Alex Avila at the plate. In the second inning Justin Upton had a strike called a ball. In the third inning Alex Presley had strike one called ball one.

If you want to know how bad it got, go look at the called strike three to Lorenzo Cain in the seventh inning.

Lorenzo is not a vocal complainer, so when he gets visibly upset you know the umpire missed an important call.

Kennedy threw 41 pitches in the third inning

After the game, Kennedy confessed that he thought he’d struck out Romine in the third, but also said he wasn’t sharp and kept missing location.

So it’s not all on Will Little.

After Little missed the call on Romine, Kennedy had plenty of opportunity to make better pitches and get out of the third inning unscathed. But as the inning wore on — and Kennedy tired — things went from bad to worse.

When a pitcher gets tired, he’ll have a hard time bending over and following through, and that means his pitches will be up in the zone. J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton got center-cut pitches and didn’t miss them.

By the end of the third inning, the Tigers took a lead they’d never give back.

When their pitcher has a long inning, what should the hitters do?

If a pitcher just threw 41 pitches, he’s gassed and needs some time to catch his breath, so his hitters need to take some pitches.

But if the opposing pitcher understands the situation, he’ll come right at those hitters because he knows they’re not swinging.

After Kennedy had that long top of the third, in the bottom of the inning Eric Hosmer took a first-pitch fastball for a called strike, but Salvador Perez and Jorge Bonifacio swung at the first pitch they saw.

Whit Merrifield extended the inning by taking a called first-pitch strike and then battled through seven more pitches before making an out.

If the Royals hitters were aware that Seth Maness would replace Kennedy in the fourth inning, Perez and Bonifacio swinging at the first pitch was OK; if the Royals hitters thought Kennedy might come back out for the fourth, swinging at the first pitch was bad baseball.

Right now I don’t know what the hitters knew, but on Friday I’ll find out and get back to you.

BTW: If a hitter does the right thing and gives away an at-bat so his pitcher can rest, or uses an at-bat to move a runner over, there is no reward except a pat on the backside when the hitter comes back to the dugout.

At the end of the year nobody is going to knock a couple at-bats off a hitter’s record because he gave them away to help his team win.

This is why you sometimes see a professional hitter have a selfish at-bat; he’s protecting his numbers and considering the nature of the business he’s in, it’s hard to blame him.

Why umpires need to admit they missed a call

Let’s say you’re the hitter and a pitch on the outside corner looked like a ball to you, but got called a strike; you might ask the umpire where he had the pitch.

If the umpire says he had it on the outside corner as a strike, you then might ask if that’s as far as he’s going to go. If the umpire says yes, now you know a pitch any further out should be a ball and you don’t have to chase it.

Hitters, catcher and umpires talk all the time; they just don’t look at each other when they’re doing it (or at least they’re not supposed to), so we’re unaware of the conversation going on around home plate.

And that conversation is defining the strike zone for that day.

If the umpire says that away pitch was a strike, that lets the catcher know he can get that call again and lets the hitter know he has to swing at the pitch if he sees it again.

If the umpire admits he missed the call, the catcher knows he might not get that pitch next time and the hitter knows he doesn’t have to cover it.

But if the umpire refuses to talk with the hitter or catcher, everybody’s in the dark.

And even worse, if the umpire refuses to admit he missed a pitch, he might repeat a bad call just to protect his ego.

The players say they just want consistency from the umpire; let us know what you’re calling tonight so we know what pitches to swing at and what pitches to let go by.

And on Wednesday night, Will Little’s inconsistency made the game harder for everyone.

Friday’s game

Friday night the Royals start a three-game series with the Indians and the scheduled pitchers are Josh Tomlin and Jason Vargas. Tomlin’s overall numbers aren’t impressive — three wins, six losses and an ERA of 5.79 — but over his career he’s killed the Royals.

Tomlin’s 10-4 with an ERA of 3.94 against Kansas City, so it should be a good matchup.

Thursday is a day off, but I’ll probably have something posted on Friday morning anyway, so stop on by.

Talk to you soon.

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