Judging the Royals

Lorenzo Cain and the little stuff that can hurt you

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) celebrates hitting a triple in the sixth inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on May 6, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) celebrates hitting a triple in the sixth inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on May 6, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

In the top of the first inning of Wednesday night’s game, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain threw Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis out at home plate; the throw was described as “perfect.”

Well, not quite.

Let’s go back to the beginning and take a look at what went wrong: Kipnis had doubled on an 0-2 pitch and that tells you something right there. With the count 0-2 pitcher Danny Duffy made a mistake and it didn’t take long for him to make another.

The next batter, Carlos Santana, drilled the first pitch he saw and shot a single up the middle. Duffy waved at it as the ball went past and Lorenzo Cain came charging in from center. With nobody out, the Indians decided to challenge Cain’s arm and Lorenzo threw a strike to catcher Salvador Perez. Sal put the tag on Kipnis and home plate umpire Will Little called Kipnis out at the plate — so what’s not to like?

The throw was too high.

While everyone was cheering the play at the plate, Carlos Santana — the guy who hit the single — was advancing to second base. The way you stop a trail runner from advancing is to have a cut-off guy in place and first baseman Eric Hosmer was where he was supposed to be; on the outfield side of the pitching mound.

When the catcher determines whether the throw has a chance to get a runner trying to score, he’ll yell at the cutoff guy and tell him to let the ball go or cut the throw off. If the catcher yells “let it go,” the cut-off man fakes a catch-and-throw to freeze the runner, but if the throw is too high the cut-off man can’t do that; the runner can see the ball is too high.

That’s why — when there’s a trail runner — the Royals want outfield throws to come in on one hop; that keeps the throw low and at least allows the possibility that the throw will be cut off — and that’s what freezes the trail runner. If there’s no trail runner — a sacrifice fly with a runner on third for instance — the outfielder is free to air mail the throw; he doesn’t have to worry about anyone else advancing.

When Cain’s throw went well over Hosmer’s head, Santana could advance to second base; Eric had no chance to cut the ball off. Then when Michael Brantley hit a grounder to Hosmer at first, Santana went to third base; 90 feet ahead of where he should have been. And then — after Ryan Rayburn got hit by a pitch — Duffy threw a wild pitch and Santana scored when he should have only been at third.

When you lose 10-3 it’s easy to let little stuff like this go, but it’s the kind of thing you need to get cleaned up before it hurts you. You won’t always lose games by seven.

Other random things that went wrong

▪ Danny Duffy could not get out of the second inning and that meant Ned Yost had to ask his bullpen for eight innings of relief. That chews the hell out of bullpen on a night when the Royals never had a lead.

▪ In the sixth inning with the score 5-3 and the Royals crawling back into the game, Salvador Perez came to the plate with runners on first and second. When there are runners in scoring position hitters sometimes get too jacked up and start to expand the zone. That’s what happened here: Perez got a 2-0 fastball, but it was a pitcher’s pitch — on the outside corner. If Sal was looking to go the other way that might be a pitch he could handle, but he pulled the ball and hit a weak grounder to third. In a count where he should have been selective, Salvy was too aggressive.

▪ Omar Infante appeared to have a brain cramp when a ball was hit back to the mound with a runner on second and nobody out. Franklin Morales threw the ball to Omar and Infante tagged the base, not the runner. Since there was no force play, the runner on second base wasn’t out although Infante did get an out at first base. But failing to get the lead runner hurt when Mike Aviles hit a single and that runner scored.

▪ Michael Brantley hit a pop fly single when Lorenzo Cain broke back and then had to reverse course and get headed back toward the infield. Because Cain broke back and didn’t get there in time, Christian Colon had to attempt a tough catch and didn’t manage to make it. On pop fly tweeners — balls hit between the infield and outfield — the infielder goes back until he hears the outfielder call him off and the outfielder should call off the infielder whenever feasible: the outfielder is moving forward and the infielder is moving back — most of the time the play should easier for the outfielder.

The limits of Twitter

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposi.”

If Abraham Lincoln had to use Twitter, that’s the Gettysburg Address.

My point being that we are now living in a world where any thought that takes more than 140 characters to express is sometimes considered not worth having. Last night, after Brandon Moss absolutely crushed a Jason Frasor fastball, I tweeted: “When the outfielders just turn and look, you know that ball is gone.”

Not exactly mind-altering information.

If I’d had more than 140 characters to express myself I probably would have said:

Fans go nuts every time a fly ball is hit to the outfield, but they should watch the outfielders, not the ball. The outfielders will tell you what’s happening. And when Jarrod Dyson jogs slowly toward the warning track and Lorenzo Cain just turns and looks, that ball ain’t coming back. If the outfielders are racing full-speed for the fence, now you got something worth watching.

But that’s 240 characters too many.

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

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