Judging the Royals

Jake Junis and why you don’t want to try too hard in baseball

Kansas City Royals pitcher Jake Junis worked against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning of a Monday’s game.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Jake Junis worked against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning of a Monday’s game. The Associated Press

In the top of the sixth inning of Monday night’s game against the Oakland A’s, rookie catcher Cam Gallagher hit a grand slam. In the bottom of the sixth inning, rookie pitcher Jake Junis gave up a run.

The two events were related.

In the first five innings, Junis had good control; he didn’t walk even one Oakland A’s batter. But in the sixth inning, Junis scuffled with location and hit Ryon Healy with a pitch to load the bases and hit Khris Davis to drive in a run.

Afterward, Junis admitted that Gallagher’s grand slam got him too amped up.

When a pitcher overthrows, his front shoulder might open up too soon and that can make his arm late and he’ll miss the target arm-side. Junis is right-handed, and Healy and Davis bat right-handed as well; after Gallagher’s home run it was an accident waiting to happen.

After Junis hit Davis, Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland made a mound visit and whatever Eiland said seemed to help; Junis got himself back under control and then got the next two batters out.

But Jake’s reaction to Cam’s home run serves as a reminder to those of us who don’t play the game:

Trying harder doesn’t work in baseball.

Trying harder screws up a pitcher’s pitching motion and can make him miss arm-side with fastballs and hang breaking balls; trying harder screws up a hitter’s swing and can make him pull his head off the ball. Trying harder can make a defender take foolish risks in the field and a base runner make bad decisions on the base paths.

Smart players know trying harder doesn’t work, so they strive for an even keel.

In big situations George Brett would tell himself to “try easier” and figured his adrenaline would get him back to trying the same and that’s what good players do. No matter the situation — World Series or spring training — good players try to give the same effort and the guys who can keep themselves under control are the real gamers.

But sometimes fans don’t understand that.

Caring enough not to show it

Unfortunately, some fans interpret ballplayers’ stoicism as not caring.

Early in his career, Alex Gordon was criticized because he didn’t smash water coolers after striking out; going back to the dugout without showing emotion was interpreted as not caring. Once Gordon started playing better, the same stoicism was interpreted as being professional. But Gordon was just trying to keep an even keel no matter what happened; he didn’t think throwing a tantrum would help.

Fans can be overly impressed with guys who scream as they come off the mound or throw a glove when they get to the dugout. But most of the time a player who does that is putting on an act: see how much I care?

Fans buy it, but ballplayers don’t.

If a guy doesn’t take the trouble to read scouting reports before the game, but beats a water cooler to death during the game, how much does that guy really care?

Emotion; there’s a right time and place

None of this means a player shouldn’t show emotion, especially in today’s game; but showing it at the right time is the trick.

Go back and watch Cam Gallaher’s home run, and this time watch the Royals players in the dugout — they’re going nuts. At that moment they didn’t have to be cool and calculating; they could go ahead and show emotion.

Watch Junis as he walks off the mound after ending the sixth inning with a bases-loaded strikeout; he pounds his fist in his glove. At that moment showing emotion wouldn’t affect the next pitch.

Now go back to Saturday’s win over the White Sox; Mike Moustakas saved the game with a diving stop and, after receiving the throw for the final out, Eric Hosmer — usually the coolest of players — gave a fist pump with some body English.

All these guys showed emotion, but did it at the right time.

Now go back a few years to a game played in Kauffman Stadium; the Blue Jays were playing the Royals in a close one and Jose Bautista was at the plate late in the game. With the game on the line, Bautista didn’t like the home plate umpire’s call and threw a tantrum. Bautista was ejected and his at-bat had to be finished by a player coming off the bench.

Bautista showed emotion, but he did it at the wrong time and over the wrong thing. He cared more about what he thought was a bad call and letting everyone in the stadium know it was a bad call than keeping his cool, finishing an important at-bat and helping his team.

So when a player shows emotion, ask yourself if he did it at the right time and for the right reasons. And when a player doesn’t show emotion, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.

Sometimes you have to care enough not to show it.