Judging the Royals

The Royals’ Eric Skoglund and the importance of getting ahead

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Eric Skoglund.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Eric Skoglund. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Sunday, Royals rookie Eric Skoglund faced 11 batters before a rain delay knocked him out of the game, but those 11 batters were enough for Skoglund to learn a lesson:

Do not fall behind big-league hitters.

When a pitcher gets ahead in the count he can throw any pitch to any location; just look at Skoglund’s first-inning strikeout of Carlos Santana.

After Skoglund got ahead 1-2, he threw a slider, a slider and a curve and all three pitches were borderline or off the plate entirely. But because Santana had two strikes, he had to offer at whatever pitch Skoglund threw and Santana’s strikeout ended the inning.

Now move on to Roberto Perez’s two-run double in the second inning.

This time, Skoglund didn’t get ahead in the count; he fell behind 2-0 and to avoid going 3-0, Skoglund threw a fastball. But Perez was ready for a fastball in a fastball count (those are 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 and sometimes 3-2) and drove that fastball to the wall in left-center field.

To survive in the big leagues, a pitcher needs to avoid fastball counts whenever possible and if he finds himself in one of those counts, the pitcher would be advised to throw an off-speed pitch or a well-located fastball.

It looked like Skoglund tried the well-located fastball, missed his spot and that cost him two runs. In 2017 when an opposing hitter puts a 2-0 pitch from a Royals pitcher in play, they hit .294 and slug .451.

I’m sure Eric Skoglund already knew this before he threw that 2-0 fastball to Perez, but there’s nothing like first-hand experience: when you’re in the big leagues, it’s hard to make a living pitching behind in the count.

Up here, they don’t swing at that

A few years back, former Royals pitcher Paul Splittorff and I were watching a rookie pitch when the rookie broke off a nice curveball. The batter didn’t swing and took the curve for a ball; the rookie looked perplexed.

That made Splittorff laugh, “Up here, they don’t swing at that.”

So a pitch that the rookie could get minor leaguers to chase wasn’t going to work so well in the big leagues and that meant the rookie was going to have to adjust his thinking.

The pitch Skoglund threw to Perez might have worked in the minors, but it didn’t up here and now Skoglund will have to adjust.

The guys who adjust get to stay, the guys who don’t go home.

Why it’s hard to sweep a series

In 2017, Jason Vargas has made 11 starts and he’s been about as good as it gets. But even though Vargas currently has an ERA of 2.08 and a winning record, he still had two starts that weren’t so hot.

Jason Hammel has also had 11 starts, but he’s scuffled. But even though Hammel currently has an ERA of 5.93 and a losing record, he still had four starts that were very good.

Small sample size, but the moral of the story is still true: pitchers who are throwing very well can still have an off night and pitchers who are scuffling can still throw a gem.

And that’s one of the reasons it’s difficult to sweep a three-game series.

Much of the time, one team has to have three mediocre starts in a row and the other team has to have three good ones in a row and those stars don’t always align.

Friday night Josh Tomlin had a good start, but Jason Vargas had a better one.

Saturday afternoon Carlos Carrasco had a bad start and Jason Hammel had one of his good ones.

But Sunday, the Royals couldn’t come up with their third good start in a row and failed to sweep the series.

So when you see a team sweep a three-game series, appreciate it; those sweeps aren’t easy. But by the same logic, it isn’t that easy to lose three in a row either.

And that brings us to the Houston Astros series.

Monday’s game

The Royals start a four-game series against the Astros and those are really hard to sweep; especially when the team you’re trying to sweep is 41-16. The Astros have not only scored more runs than any other team in the league, but they also have the best team ERA. I’ll be surprised if anyone with the team says this for the record, but if the Royals can hold their own, split the four-game series and then go beat up on some weaker teams, they might be satisfied.

Monday night it’s Mike Fiers (2-2, 4.96 ERA) against Ian Kennedy (0-5, 5.12 ERA).

Enjoy the game.