Judging the Royals

The Royals finish a 7-2 road trip and get back in the race

Kansas City Royals outfielders Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jorge Bonifacio celebrated a 7-3 win against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
Kansas City Royals outfielders Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jorge Bonifacio celebrated a 7-3 win against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday. The Associated Press

On Thursday, June 8, the Kansas City Royals started a nine-game road trip. Their record was 26-33 and they were 5  1/2 out of first place.

On Sunday, June 18, the Kansas City Royals finished that road trip 7-2. Their record is now 33-35 and they’re 3  1/2 out of first place.

The Royals now have a shot at first place and anyone who jumped off their bandwagon might consider crawling back on.

Jason Vargas forces the Angels to swing the bat

When facing a nervous rookie, hitters might be passive and allow the rookie to pitch his way into trouble; maybe the rookie will walk some batters or at least fall behind in the count.

When facing a veteran pitcher who does not appear to have a pulse, hitters might be more aggressive; the veteran is going to throw strikes and, if they take pitches, the hitters will fall behind in the count.

On Sunday, against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Greater Orange County, Jason Vargas faced 27 batters and threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of them; 13 of the Angels batters swung at the first strike they saw.

Vargas being aggressive about throwing strikes forced the Angels to be aggressive about swinging the bat. That kept Vargas’ pitch count low, so entering the sixth inning Vargas had only thrown 66 pitches.

That was crucial.

When the Angels loaded the bases with nobody out, Vargas still had something left in the tank: he got the next three batters out and only allowed one run while doing so. Vargas wasn’t as sharp as he’s been in the past, but he was good enough to win his 10th game.

The Royals beat the Angels 7-3.

3-0 green lights

During the Angels series, Albert Pujols got a 3-0 green light and that’s worth writing about.

Managers sometimes give 3-0 green lights to hitters with pop; hitters that can do extra-base damage. Albert Pujols fits that description, so it’s easy to see why Mike Scioscia let the future Hall of Famer swing away.

But if there are important runs in scoring position, a singles hitter might get the 3-0 green light; after all, a single with a runner on second base might do as much damage as a solo home run.

And, with some pitchers, a 3-0 count is no guarantee of a walk.

Some guys have enough control to throw three borderline pitches off the plate; then throw strikes when they have to. So if a pitcher can hit the mitt when he has to, a 3-0 green light might make sense.

Why you might see a 3-0 steal

Chris Getz — who was a very smart ballplayer — once stole second base in a 3-0 count and I asked why. Why steal second base when the pitcher was one bad pitch away from walking the batter and moving Getz into scoring position with no risk of being thrown out?

Getz explained:

The pitcher on the mound that day was one of those guys with good control; even though he was in a 3-0 count, he was still unlikely to walk the batter.

But one pitch away from issuing a walk, some pitchers slow down their delivery to make sure they throw a strike. A pitcher who normally takes 1.3 seconds to deliver a pitch, might take 1.5 seconds to deliver a 3-0 pitch.

The base was there for the taking; Getz took it and the batter — who was not walked — drove him in.

Smart players might have better retirement options than more talented players who aren’t quite as smart.

After Getz quit playing, the Royals hired him as baseball operations assistant. Then the Chicago White Sox offered Getz a job and he’s currently their director of player development.

On Tuesday, dine with Drew Butera

On Tuesday, the Star will post the first of three videos called “Dining with Drew” and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.

Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera recently joined The Kansas City Star's Lee Judge for a meal at Garōzzo's Ristorante. The three-part video series is now available to watch on KansasCity.com.

Royals catcher Drew Butera and I went to lunch at Garozzo’s Italian Ristorante and talked food, family and baseball while recording the experience. We couldn’t invite every Royals fan in Kansas City to come along (Garozzo’s dining room isn’t that big), but if you ever wanted to hang out with a big league ballplayer, this is the next-best thing.

You’ll get to hear some pretty funny stories from Drew and see how much Italian food two guys can eat without exploding.

But be careful:

After viewing the first segment — “Appetizers” — several of my coworkers got so hungry they immediately left work to eat lunch at Garozzo’s and try the dishes they saw in the video. (I can highly recommend the Sicilian Artichoke.)

Check back in Tuesday and you’ll be “Dining with Drew.”