Judging the Royals

How Whit Merrifield set up Felix Hernandez and hit a leadoff home run

Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield was congratulated in the dugout after hitting a solo home run to start Tuesday’s game.
Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield was congratulated in the dugout after hitting a solo home run to start Tuesday’s game. The Associated Press

Everybody knows what a leadoff hitter does to start a game: he takes pitches.

Take enough pitches and the leadoff hitter gives his teammates a preview of what they’ll see that day. If a leadoff hitter starts a game by striking out, but sees eight pitches while doing so, it’s considered a very good at-bat.

That being the case, leadoff hitters often start a game by taking pitches until the pitcher throws at least one called strike.

Just look at Whit Merrifield:

▪ On June 23, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On June 24, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On June 25, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On June 26, the Royals had a day off.

▪ On June 27, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On June 28, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On June 29, Merrifield was not in the starting lineup: Ramon Torres led off the game and he took a called first strike.

▪ On June 30, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On July 1, the Royals played a doubleheader. In game one, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike. In game two, Merrifield took a hack at the first pitch he saw and lined out.

▪ On July 2, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

▪ On July 3, Merrifield led off the game and took a called first strike.

Coming into Tuesday’s July 4 game it was reasonable to think that Merrifield would probably take the first pitch of the game; that’s what he does most of the time.

So Felix Hernandez threw a pitch down the middle.

Merrifield swung and homered; after just one pitch, the Royals were up 1-0.

All ballplayers know there are scouts at every game; smart ballplayers know how to use that to their advantage. Take a called first strike over and over and scouts will report that, so somewhere down the road you’ll buy yourself a very good pitch to hit.

So what happens Wednesday night?

If Merrifield sticks to his pattern, he’ll go back to taking called first strikes and that means the Mariners starting pitcher, Ariel Miranda, can get ahead in the count by throwing his first pitch down the middle.

The Royals are 43-40 after another win on Tuesday night. The Star's Rustin Dodd breaks it down.

Unless Merrifield decides to get tricky and ambush first pitches two nights in a row.

Stuff like this is what makes games worth watching.

Did Joakim Soria quick-pitch Danny Valencia?

Monday night’s game against the Mariners ended when Joakim Soria struck out former Royal Danny Valencia. After swinging and missing the final pitch of the game, Valencia had words for Soria. According to the TV guys, Valencia thought Soria quick-pitched him.

Here’s the rule in question:

Rule 6.02(a )(5) Comment (Rule 8.05(e) Comment): A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.

So a quick-pitch is a pitch thrown before the batter is set in the box.

Go back, look at the play and it’s clear Valencia is set when the pitch is thrown. He may have felt Soria changed the tempo of his delivery, but that’s not illegal.

A couple things worth thinking about:

Point one: Valencia is one of those hitters who takes his time getting set. In-between pitches he’ll step out of the box, adjust his batting helmet, knock the dirt off his spikes and take half-cuts with his bat. If the rules allowed Valencia to do yoga poses between pitches, we’d probably see a downward facing dog.

Valencia may have felt rushed, but he was set at the time the pitch was delivered.

Point two: Valencia is the guy who punched Billy Butler when they were teammates in Oakland.

Valencia broke into the league in 2010 and has played for seven different teams since then; Minnesota, Boston, Baltimore, Kansas City, Toronto, Oakland and Seattle — he’s averaging a team a year.

Big-league players do not throw other big league players under the bus — at least publicly — but when you see a guy constantly moving from team to team, that might be a guy who wears out his welcome in a hurry.

I was wrong and it wasn’t the first or last time

These days sportswriters are expected to tweet during ballgames so the people who follow us get to hear our random thoughts as a game progresses. And if something tweetworthy happens, you better get that tweet out as quickly as possible; something else is bound to happen soon.

Not an excuse, just an explanation.

So when Nelson Cruz hit a ball off the wall and only managed a single, I pointed out that Cruz did not hustle out of the box. I doubled down on my mistake when I said Cruz did not hustle to second on a double-play ball.

Great insight if you ignore the fact that Cruz was playing hurt.

A couple people pointed that out to me after I was critical of Cruz, so I need to man up (which is a bit sexist) and admit I was wrong. It’s a good reminder that inaccurate information, delivered quickly, is still inaccurate information.

That tweet was not worth the paper it’s written on.

My bad.

Better to slow down and make sure what you’re tweeting is accurate; I’ll try to do better in the future.

Lee Judge: 816-234-4482, @leejudge8 

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