Judging the Royals

How should the Royals respond to all those hit batters (poll)?

Kansas City Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz kept Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain calm while he looked at Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers after being hit by a pitch in the sixth inning by Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija Monday, April 6, 2015, at the Kansas City Royals season opening game with the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz kept Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain calm while he looked at Chicago White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers after being hit by a pitch in the sixth inning by Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija Monday, April 6, 2015, at the Kansas City Royals season opening game with the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

Opposing pitchers 12, Royals pitchers 2: The category is hit batters. One of those hit batters was Alex Rios, now lost to the Royals for several weeks after Twins rookie pitcher J.R. Graham threw a fastball up and in, clipping Rios on the hand.

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After the game the Royals sent out a statement saying that Rios had suffered a “nondisplaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal.”

Go back and watch the replay and it’s pretty clear that Graham did not mean to hit Rios. The bases were loaded and Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki was set up low and away. Dayton Moore said some of the blame for KC batters getting drilled could be attributed to the “slide step” — getting the front foot down faster — and pitchers missing arm side when they use that delivery. But Graham wasn’t using a slide step when he hit Rios; remember, the bases were loaded — the runners weren’t going anywhere.

So why did Graham miss Suzuki’s mitt by approximately four feet?

Graham’s a rookie, he was pitching in his fourth big league game ever and it’s not too hard to imagine that he got excited and overthrew the pitch. Try to throw too hard and a pitcher’s front side opens too soon, the throwing arm is then late, the release point is missed and the ball goes up and in to the pitcher’s arm side — which pretty much explains how Rios got hit.

But even when it’s not intentional, it’s still a good idea to let the rest of the league know that you won’t let your guys get hit and not respond. If a rookie pitcher gets over-amped and drills a guy on the other team and then one of his hitters gets drilled in retaliation, that rookie pitcher will get unpopular in his own clubhouse real quick. In the big leagues, players are much more in charge than you might think; managers or coaches can lecture or fine, but more often than not, players police players. You want Graham’s teammates telling him to be more careful in the future.

If the Royals decide to send a message, they should do it the right way; throw a fastball below the hitter’s shoulders, but behind him; his reactions will have him back up into the pitch. He’ll get hit in the back or side and no permanent damage will be done. If the hitter doesn’t like it, tell him to go talk to his pitcher; that’s who started it.

One way or another, the Royals will send a message to the rest of the league: And if they won’t protect their own hitters, it might not be a message they want out there.

Two things Andy McCullough has wrong

I read Andy McCullough’s online chat this morning and Andy thinks hitting a Twins batter in retaliation would be counterproductive and medieval. But Andy also said he gets a “bowl” when he goes to Chipotle and clearly the best part of a burrito is the flour tortilla. Kids today — what are you gonna do? (Don’t tell him, but I actually like Andy; he’s awfully cynical for a young man and I like that. He’s also a very good beat reporter and works very hard; he’s just wrong about Chipotle and drilling hitters.)

I hate to go all Old-School, especially when I’m not the one that’s going to have to throw a baseball at somebody and back it up if they decide to come to the mound, but you might want to let the rest of the league know that if you hit one of our guys, one of your guys will get drilled.

And a blowout is the perfect time to do it

Sometimes a pitcher can’t respond to one of his guys getting hit because the game is more important than retaliating. In that case you just remember you owe a guy one and wait for the right opportunity — like when the game is a blowout. Rios got hit in the top of the eighth inning and the Royals did not respond in the bottom of the eighth or ninth; a game they won by nine runs.

Another thing that was notable for not happening was Erik Kratz staying on the bench, If you know you need to let Salvador Perez rest whenever possible, sending him back out to catch the eighth and ninth innings seems like a lost opportunity. Sal is currently hitting .414 (small sample size, I know) with three home runs and nine RBIs. A rested Salvador Perez looks like a different hitter than the guy who was dragging himself through the 2014 postseason.

Whatever happens tonight — whether the Royals agree with me or Andy — it should be interesting. And isn’t that why we watch?

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

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