Judging the Royals

The Royals are hot, but how is this heat affecting the players?

Whit Merrifield on Royals rallying from 5-1 deficit: 'That's what good teams have to do'

Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield talks about hitting the game-winning sacrifice fly to beat the Chicago White Sox 7-6 in 10 innings Friday, July 21, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium.
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Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield talks about hitting the game-winning sacrifice fly to beat the Chicago White Sox 7-6 in 10 innings Friday, July 21, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium.

Friday night the game-time temperature was 96 degrees, the heat index was a billion and two. (I may be off on that heat index, but if you live in Kansas City, you get the picture.)

The White Sox and Royals started a three-game series and the Sox starter, former Royal James Shields, managed to throw 4 1/3 innings; Royals starter Ian Kennedy threw only four.

On Thursday, Detroit starter Michael Fulmer threw 2 2/3s innings; on Monday, Royals starter Jason Vargas threw 2 2/3s innings. Since the beginning of this week from hell, the only starting pitcher to make it through seven innings has been Justin Verlander.

Of course, hitters and game situations have a lot to do with short outings, but if you’ve ever played baseball in a blast furnace, you know that heat is a factor:

When a pitcher gets gassed it affects the quality of his pitches.

Danny Duffy’s last start

On Thursday night, against the Tigers, Danny Duffy had a stressful fifth inning; he only threw 18 pitches, but 15 of them were thrown with a runner on base.

Here’s why that matters:

One of the reasons a so-so starter can become a monster reliever is the difference in the effort required; a reliever can throw his best stuff on every pitch because he’ll probably throw just one inning.

But starting pitchers might be asked to throw 100 pitches, so they have to conserve energy. And one way to do that is to wait until there are runners on base to reach back for that little bit extra on a fastball or slider.

On Thursday night the first batter of that fifth inning was Mikie Mahtook; Duffy threw him one fastball at 90.9 mph. Mahtook struck out and the next batter was Victor Martinez.

The Tigers DH saw nothing but off-speed pitches and singled; James McCann also singled and Duffy was pitching with a runner in scoring position.

So Duffy reached back for just a bit more velocity on his fastball.

The final pitch of the fifth inning was a 93.4 mph fastball to Nick Castellanos. Even though he gave up three runs, Duffy was bearing down.

But bearing down eats up energy.

When Duffy came back out for the sixth inning, he had a difficult time getting his pitches down in the zone, gave up three straight hits and was pulled from the game.

Afterward Ned Yost said the heat got to Duffy in the sixth inning, but a stressful fifth inning had something to do with that.

When a pitcher gets whacked around, look at what happened just before the pitcher started getting hit; don’t be surprised if you see a long at bat or long inning that drained the pitcher’s energy.

And with this heat, that can have a big effect.

Saturday night’s game

I’ve seen one forecast that says Saturday’s temperature will reach 102 and another forecast that says it’s only going to be 101.

Safe to say, Saturday’s forecast is that it’s going to be hot…like really hot.

Because their starters did not go deep in the last two games, the Royals bullpen had to supply four innings on Thursday and six innings on Friday. The good news is that the only reliever that threw in both games was Mike Minor.

The bad news is that the White Sox had Thursday off, so their bullpen has had more rest.

Saturday evening the two starters are Jason Vargas and Mike Pelfrey; neither one made it through five innings in their last start. And with today’s forecast, the bullpens might be involved early once again.

The starting pitcher who can best manage the other team and the heat will give his team an advantage; so pay attention to long at bats, long innings and pitch count.

In this heat, they matter more than ever.

Using an infrared thermometer, The Kansas City Star's Lily O'Neill explores heat in Kansas City.