Judging the Royals

Jason Hammel, Drew Butera and the importance of the fastball away

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Monday night, the Royals beat the Red Sox 4-2 and Jason Hammel got the win. It was Hammel’s fourth quality start in a row and afterward, catcher Drew Butera was asked what he was seeing from the Royals starter in those last four starts. Butera talked about Hammel’s ability to throw all his pitches for strikes, but then zeroed in on the importance of just one pitch:

The fastball away.

Butera said establishing the fastball away opens up the rest of the zone and that’s worth talking about.

Some people think the fastball away is the most important pitch in baseball. Once a pitcher establishes that he can put a fastball on the outside corner, hitters have to adjust; they have to be able to hit that pitch.

But a hitter that can handle a fastball on the outside corner is going to have a hard time handling a fastball on the inside corner; it’s just too much plate to cover.

Once the pitcher gets hitters looking for a fastball away, the pitcher can start mixing in chase sliders; pitches that look very much like a fastball away and then move out of the strike zone.

And a fastball away will limit most hitters to singles; few guys can pull that pitch for power.

On Tuesday night, the starting pitchers are Matt Strahm and some guy named Chris Sale; if you’re watching the game — and why wouldn’t you — look for those heaters on the outside corner.

If the pitchers can consistently hit the mitt with a fastball away, the hitters might be in for a long night.

Butera’s triple

The game was tied 2-2 in the seventh inning on Monday when Butera tripled. It probably should have been a single, but Boston’s center fielder — Jackie Bradley, Jr. — tried a diving catch and missed.

In that situation — late in the game, important run at the plate — outfielders are usually told to play conservatively and make the other team beat you with three singles. Fortunately for the Royals, Bradley took a risk and it backfired.

Butera was replaced with a pinch runner — Ramon Torres — and seven pitches later Whit Merrifeld drove in the go-ahead run with a single.

For six innings, Hammel’s slider was a cutter

After the game Jason Hammel talked about his slider and said it didn’t show up until the seventh inning; before that it was more of a cutter — more sideways movement than down.

And that brings us to the art of calling and delivering pitches.

Pitchers never know for sure what they’re going to have that night. They might have a terrific slider or one that isn’t so hot and that means they have to be able to change game plans on the fly.

And just to make it more frustrating, the terrific slider might go away for an inning or two and then return; the lousy slider might turn into something more dynamic late in the game.

If the pitcher is a reliever he needs to junk the pitch that isn’t working; he won’t have time to find it.

If the pitcher is a starter, smart catchers will keep calling a pitch that isn’t working, but call for it in counts that don’t require a strike.

We see a pitcher bounce a slider or curve in the dirt and think it’s a mistake, but sometimes it’s a pitcher doing it on purpose; he’s trying to find the right release point that will allow him to throw the same pitch for a strike later in the game.

Facebook Live with Drew Butera at 3 p.m. Tuesday

On Tuesday, we posted the first episode of “Dining with Drew.”

Drew Butera and I went to lunch, recorded the conversation and edited it into three videos: “Appetizers,” “Main Course” and “Dessert.”

Can't go to lunch with a ballplayer? We'll bring one to you: Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera. We sat down with him at Garozzo’s Italian Ristorante and (in the first of three episodes) talked about Sicilian Butter, Sicilian Artichokes and wh

“Appetizers” is up and the other two will follow on Wednesday and Thursday.

As luck would have it, we scheduled a Facebook Live for 3 p.m. Tuesday to talk about “Dining with Drew” but now we can also talk about hitting a triple, catching Jason Hammel and the Royals current hot streak.

See you at 3 p.m.

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