Judging the Royals

Jason Hammel took the loss Friday night; why that’s unusual

Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel is relieved by manager Ned Yost in the seventh inning during Friday's game against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman.
Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel is relieved by manager Ned Yost in the seventh inning during Friday's game against the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Friday night, after six innings, the Royals had a 2-1 lead on the Seattle Mariners and their starting pitcher, Jason Hammel, had thrown 75 pitches. Hammel, and the Royals, appeared to be in good shape.

In the top of the seventh, the Mariners had Danny Valencia, Kyle Seager and Guillermo Heredia due up.

Ned Yost had lefty Ryan Buchter warming in the pen because Kyle Seager is left-handed and if someone got on base another lefty, Jarrod Dyson, would come to the plate.

Hammel got the first out of the inning when Valencia hit a fly ball to centerfield. Since lefty Kyle Seager could only tie the game, Hammel was allowed to face him and Seager singled.

Then Ned Yost did something big league managers will try to avoid.

When a starting pitcher gives Ned a good outing, Ned will try to protect him by not allowing him to face a go-ahead run in the later innings. It’s a rule of thumb a lot of managers try to follow; if a guy has pitched his butt off, don’t let him take a loss.

But Ned tried to squeeze one more out from Hammel, let him face Guillermo and Guillermo doubled; the game was tied and what turned out to be the winning run was in scoring position. Buchter was brought in to face Dyson, he singled Guillermo home and Jason Hammel took the loss.

A pitcher can throw a great game for 6 1/3 innings, but let him stay a batter or two longer than he should and he can wind up with a loss; and on Friday night, that’s what happened to Jason Hammel.

Melky Cabrera, situational hitting and RBIs

With the score 1-1 in the sixth inning, Whit Merrifield doubled and Lorenzo Cain followed that with a single. The Royals had runners on first and third; nobody out. In that situation, the next hitter needs to get a ball up in the zone because a fly ball to the outfield would score Merrifield.

But the next hitter was Melky Cabrera and he chased two down-and-in pitches; pitches designed to produce a groundball, and that’s what Melky hit. The Mariners had their infield in, the groundball was hit to shortstop Jean Segura and Merrifield had to hold at third base.

When non-players say it doesn’t take skill to drive in runs, players disagree.

They think it takes skill to know what pitch is needed to get the job done, to wait until they get that pitch and then do something with it once they see it.

From a ballplayer’s point of view, Cabrera was impatient and it cost him an RBI.

Why Whit Merrifield scored on a wild pitch

In the same inning with two outs and the score still tied 1-1, James Paxton threw a pitch in the dirt. Catcher Mike Zunino blocked it, but the ball glanced away to Zunino’s right.

But the ball never left the dirt circle around home plate and, most of the time, that’s not far enough away from the plate for a runner to score – but Whit Merrifield did anyway.

Couple of things that might have made it possible: there were two outs, so Merrifield was going on contact and that meant there was no delay in his jump, and Mike Zunino does not have a great reputation for blocking pitches.

If a catcher has an iffy reputation for blocking, runners might be told to break whenever they see the catcher drop to his knees; don’t wait to see how far away the ball rolls, go right away.

Zunino got to the ball and flipped it to James Paxton, who was covering home, but Paxton turned his away to make the play at the plate and missed catching the ball.

If I hear more about what instructions Merrifield was given before the wild pitch, I’ll let you know.

How Paxton’s teammates helped get him out of the game

James Paxton is the Mariners’ best starting pitcher. He’s thrown more than six innings in eight of his 19 starts and 100 pitches or more in 11 of those starts. But Friday night Paxton was pulled after six innings and 95 pitches.

At least one of the reasons Paxton came out of the game was his teammates.

Seven Mariners came to the plate in the top of the seventh inning and they saw a total of 31 pitches. That meant Paxton had a long sit and a chance to stiffen up.

If his teammates had a long inning in the third, Paxton would go back out there, but do it in the seventh and pitcher who has almost emptied his tank anyway, will probably be done for the night.

And it didn’t hurt that his teammates scored three runs and took a 4-2 lead.

If we want to understand what we’re seeing, the explanation often lies in the previous inning. A pitcher has tough inning in the fourth – lots of pitches, lots of energy expended – but gets though it without a run scoring, so we assume everything’s OK.

Then, because the fourth gassed him, that pitcher gets lit up in the fifth.

So when a pitcher has a long inning, either on the mound or on the bench, pay attention to what happens next.