Judging the Royals

Jason Vargas had trouble with his change-up on Wednesday

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas on Wednesday night.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas on Wednesday night. The Associated Press

If you decided to skip Wednesday night’s Mariners-Royals game, woke up Thursday morning and wondered what the heck happened to Jason Vargas — he gave up six runs in five innings — here’s what happened.

(There’s a bit of speculation in here, but give me a break; the Royals were in Seattle and I was sitting on my couch in Kansas City — I had to fill in a few blanks.)

Wednesday night Vargas gave up eight hits to the Mariners and the first four came on change-ups. After Mike Zunino led off the second inning by hitting a change-up out of the yard, Vargas stopped throwing it.

According to MLB’s Gameday, after Zunino’s homer, Vargas threw 13 pitches and not one was a change-up.

But eliminating the change-up left Vargas throwing just two pitches, a fastball and curve, and that simplified things for Seattle’s hitters.

After Jean Segura homered on a fastball, Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland made a mound visit and, while we don’t know what was discussed, we do know Vargas began throwing his change-up again and in the third inning Nelson Cruz hit another change-up for another home run.

Wednesday night most of the damage done against Vargas was done on his change-up, so you don’t have to climb too far out on a limb to conclude he didn’t have a good one.

How to throw a change-up

Apparently, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and there’s definitely more than one way to throw a change-up, but this is the way I was taught to throw one.

A change-up is thrown with the same motion as a fastball, but you do a couple things to kill the pitch’s velocity.

Start with the grip; you want it to be inefficient as possible.

When throwing a fastball you hold the ball in your fingertips and as you release the ball you snap your fingers down.

When throwing a change-up you hold the ball in your palm — make an “OK” sign and hold the ball next to the circle your thumb and forefinger make — and when you release the ball you don’t snap the fingers down. Release the ball the same way you would pull down a window shade; with the fingers up.

Then let the air out of your lungs and finish with your chest on your knee; if you want to get fancy you can drag your back toe across the ground. Both techniques kill your follow through and take velocity off the pitch.

Done right, the end result is a pitch that looks like a fastball down the pipe, but then dies as it reaches the strike zone. Good change-ups finish down; at the knees or below.

Now back to Jason Vargas:

Wednesday night his change-ups were finishing up and there’s a name for 80 mph pitches that stay up in the zone: batting practice.

The good news is Vargas and Dave Eiland know waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than I do about throwing a change-up and, together, they’ll make an adjustment. I’d be surprised if Vargas didn’t have a good change-up next time he pitches.

Guess what: the Royals are half a game out of first place

Jason Vargas has been very good almost every time out, but Wednesday night he wasn’t.

So his teammates picked him up.

Vargas gave up six runs in first five innings, but the bullpen gave up no runs in the next five and the offense scored nine; it was the Royals 26th comeback win of the season.

As of Thursday morning the Royals are a half-game out of first place; a remarkable comeback for a team that started the season so poorly.

Even so, at least one person thinks they ought to give up.

Because making it to the World Series is a long shot, former general manager Jim Bowden thinks the Royals should sell off the players who are set to become free agents.

According to Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle, this is the same Jim Bowden who didn’t think much of the Royals off-season moves before the 2015 season; Bowden called them “bizarre.” He didn’t like saying goodbye to James Shields or Billy Butler and didn’t like gambling on “declining” players like Kendrys Morales and Ryan Madson.

In retrospect all four moves look like good ones, so considering his track record, maybe Royals fans should take Jim Bowden’s opinions with a grain of salt the size of a Buick.

The red-hot Royals now head to Los Angeles to take on the 57-29 Dodgers.

Things are getting interesting.

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