Judging the Royals

Why managers try to get wins for their starting pitchers

Kansas City Royals pitcher Travis Wood.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Travis Wood. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Sunday, against the Twins, Travis Wood threw four shutout innings while using 64 pitches. Wood had not started a game since 2015 and hadn’t thrown more than 49 pitches this season, so entering the fifth inning he was on a short leash.

Wood started the fifth by walking the leadoff batter.

Walking the leadoff batter, especially with a 5-0 lead, is a bad sign; the pitcher knows he should be throwing strikes, but is having a hard time doing so.

In the bullpen, Scott Alexander started warming up. After Wood allowed two consecutive singles and a run, Ned Yost made the pitching change. Alexander took over and eventually got out of the inning with the Royals still leading 5-2.

But if Wood was already 15 pitches over his previous high, why send him out to start the fifth inning?

Two reasons:

The Royals have not had a day off since June 26 and playing the Twins three games in two days hammered the Kansas City bullpen. Alexander had thrown 30 pitches on Saturday and Ned was asking him for another inning on Sunday; so Ned pushed Wood as far as possible.

And there was a win on the line.

At times, fans have criticized Ned for trying to get wins for his starting pitchers, but there’s a pretty good chance those fans have never managed in the big leagues.

One of the ways big-league managers keep their jobs is by keeping players happy and one of the ways big league managers keep players happy is by helping them achieve personal goals.

So you don’t see managers pulling pitchers with one out to go in a no-hitter or pinch hitting for a player one hit away from completing a cycle or yanking a starter who has a 5-0 lead and needs three outs to qualify for a win.

How going to the World Series in 2014 and 2015 has affected 2017

After the loss of Yordano Ventura and injuries to Danny Duffy and Nate Karns, the Royals have been required to patch a starting rotation together; rookies have made their big-league debuts and relievers have come out of the pen to make a start.

Anyone wondering why the Royals don’t have better options available should remember: the Royals gave away pitching prospects to acquire James Shields, Wade Davis, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.

During the World Series parade no one complained that giving away pitching prospects would cause a problem two years later. And looking back on those two trips to the World Series, giving away those prospects seems worth it.

What happened to Brandon Moss?

During Saturday’s doubleheader, Brandon Moss had five hits; on Sunday he went 0 for 4 and struck out three times.

What changed?

On Saturday, the Twins were going after Moss with fastballs away to get ahead in the count. Moss had been spitting on fastballs away because they weren’t pitches he could drive, but on Saturday he started swinging at them; he quit worrying about driving the ball, he just needed some hits.

By his sixth trip to the plate the Twins adjusted to what Moss was doing and started throwing more off-speed pitches; Brandon’s final hit of the day came on a curve.

On Sunday, the Twins continued to throw Moss a lot of off-speed stuff and very few hittable fastballs; Moss punched out three times, so don’t be surprised if Moss sees a lot of curves and sliders in Seattle.

Watch out for a letdown series

Over the weekend, the Royals won three out of four games against the Twins, but it was a grind. Two of their starting pitchers did not go deep in their games and the Kansas City bullpen threw 17 innings in the series. And after Saturday’s doubleheader, players were worn out; that’s why Sunday’s lineup gave Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain a day off and had Eric Hosmer in the DH slot.

After a big weekend series against a divisional rival, it’s easy to have a letdown.

The Mariners are not a divisional rival, the weeknight crowds will be smaller and the Royals are coming in to the series with a bullpen that’s been overworked.

The Royals need to avoid a letdown in Seattle.

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