Judging the Royals

Mike Moustakas on his turnaround at the plate: ‘Better late than never’

Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas runs to first base after hitting an RBI-single off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber in the seventh inning of a baseball game, Monday, April 27, 2015, in Cleveland. Jarrod Dyson scored on the play. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Kansas City Royals Mike Moustakas runs to first base after hitting an RBI-single off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber in the seventh inning of a baseball game, Monday, April 27, 2015, in Cleveland. Jarrod Dyson scored on the play. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) AP

Monday night, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas went four for five against the Cleveland Indians and raised his batting average to .342. Moustakas has been working on hitting the ball the other way in order to beat the overloaded shifts that left-handed pull hitters have been seeing in recent seasons.

Hitting .212 might make you think you need to adjust and, to his credit, that’s what Moustakas has been doing.

When Clint Hurdle was the hitting coach of the Colorado Rockies, I asked him about his hitting philosophy. Clint said he recommended hitters go to the plate with a high-average approach (back up the middle and the other way) and then — against certain pitchers, in certain counts and certain situations — look to pull the ball.

To remind his hitters that they should avoid a dead-pull approach, Clint fined players if they hit a home run in batting practice and then didn’t hit the next pitch to the opposite field. As I recall, the fine was 25 cents and I expressed surprise that any big-leaguer would worry about losing a quarter. Hurdle said big-league ballplayers were very competitive people and didn’t like to lose … at anything.

But knowing when to turn and burn — when to look inside and pull the ball — takes some experience. And back on April 21st, we might have seen Mike Moustakas take another step forward in his evolution as a hitter.

Pitchers want Moustakas to pull the ball and hit it toward the 37 guys they have stationed between first and second base. (OK, that count might be slightly off, but some nights that’s what it looks like.) To get Moose to pull the ball, pitchers throw him off-speed stuff or fastballs inside.

Mike’s job — depending on the situation and whether they have one of those shifts on — is to find a pitch out over the plate that he can hit toward the empty side of the field. But then, once in a while (and April 21st was an example) Moustakas can look inside and try to do some damage.

Back on the 21st of this month, the Royals were facing the Minnesota Twins and Tommy Milone was on the mound. Milone’s average fastball is 87.2 miles per hour. In the fifth inning with Christian Colon on base, Milone tried to run a first-pitch fastball in on Mike’s hands, but Mike was ready and turned on it — bang — a two-run home run.

The pitch was 88 mph.

If Milone threw 98 mph, looking to turn and burn might have been a bad idea, but looking to pull a fastball from a soft-throwing lefty is a workable plan. Like Hurdle said: against certain pitchers, in certain counts and certain situations…

The thing that made the home run even more impressive was the fact that Moustakas singled to left field before and after hitting it; he didn’t hit a bomb and then get pull happy. After that home run I complimented Mike on his approach, but then asked why it took so long for him to figure things out. Moose laughed and said: “Better late than never.”

And right about now I’m guessing most Royals fans would agree.

Other random stuff you might like to know

▪ People around the club thought it was very important for Moustakas to have some early success, that way he’d be more likely to stick with the plan. He had it and so far he is.

▪ Monday night, Jarrod Dyson took a called third strike from Corey Kluber. When you have two strikes it’s a bad idea to take a borderline pitch from a Cy Young winner; he’ll probably get the call.

▪ It also works in reverse: a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher shouldn’t expect to get calls with a MVP at the plate. Umpires tend to keep the stars happy — nobody cares if the utility infielder thinks he got screwed — and then everyone else falls in line.

▪ Kendrys Morales hit a rocket at Indians third baseman Mike Aviles and Aviles played the ball off to the side. Mike didn’t glove the ball and he was charged with an error. Infielders will play balls off to the side to protect their dental work and to avoid errors; ballplayers believe scorekeepers are more likely to score a hit if the ball is played off to the side — but in Mike’s case that didn’t work.

▪ The brawl in Chicago was started when the Chicago White Sox’s Adam Eaton said something to Yordano Ventura and Ventura responded with a two-word reply. Apparently, Eaton was upset because he thought Ventura quick pitched him (threw the ball before Eaton was ready) and Eaton said something to Ventura. Ventura said something back and then suddenly everyone was kung fu fighting.

The quick pitch — if it was one, I’ve looked at it and Eaton is set, but just barely — lit the fuse, but there was already plenty of dynamite lying around. Jeff Samardzija and Lorenzo Cain wanted to go at it and found an excuse.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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