Judging the Royals

There’s no cheering in the press box, but …

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) throws in the sixth inning during Thursday's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on May 7, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Luke Hochevar (44) throws in the sixth inning during Thursday's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on May 7, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

There’s no cheering in the press box.

But if there were, you might have heard an ovation for Luke Hochevar. Star beat reporter Andy McCullough says it’s been 585 days since Luke stood on a big league mound in a big league game. I trust that number because Andy wears those horn-rimmed hipster glasses and they automatically make you better at math.

Plus, 585 days sounds about right.

Those of us who have been around the team for those 585 days have been watching Hochevar rehab for a very long time. And watching the effort required to get ready to pitch again makes you appreciate it when a guy goes out and throws 95 miles an hour, strikes out two and has a 1-2-3 inning.

It’s just a small glimpse of the work Luke Hochevar put in, but back in spring training I walked out to the Royals practice fields and there was only one guy to be seen: Luke Hochevar. He was standing all by himself on a pitching mound, practicing his delivery. He wasn’t actually throwing a ball — he was just going through the motions. I stood off to the side and watched and when Luke was finished, we talked.

Luke had been working on keeping his front side closed; let the front side open too soon and the throwing arm never reaches the proper release point. The ball will come in high and inside to the pitcher’s arm-side. Sliders will flatten out; baseballs that manage to find the zone will tend to get hit hard.

To make Luke more aware of his front side and what it was doing, he had a metal baseball in his glove. If he let his front side droop or relax, the weighted ball would exaggerate the movement and make him aware that his delivery was off.

Luke was also working on separating over the rubber, which sounds kind of dirty until you find out what it means: getting the ball out of the glove on time. Let the lower half drift forward too soon, get the ball out of the glove late and once again the proper release point will be missed.

Spend 30 minutes talking to a big-league pitcher about what’s required to throw a baseball with accuracy and consistency and you’re amazed that anyone can do it. There’s a whole bunch of teeny-tiny stuff that can go wrong.

So when you see a guy work really hard to overcome an obstacle and then he has success, you might feel like showing some appreciation — but there’s no cheering in the press box.

On the other hand, I’m not in the press box right now so; good for you, Luke.

It’s always something

Say something nice about a player — which I just did — and some people will blow you up for being a homer. Say something negative about a player — and yesterday I pointed out that Lorenzo Cain overthrew the cutoff man, which resulted in a run being scored — and you’ll get blown up for being mean.

After a while, you realize that in the age of social media and everyone having an opinion, people are going to vent about something. After that you just say what you think and let the chips fall where they may — because it’s always something.

Holland’s also back

Greg Holland also came back after a spell on the DL and I asked him if there was anything different about that appearance and he said, nope, he was thinking the same thing he thinks every time: “Don’t walk the leadoff man.”

Holland laughed and said he knows he’s supposed to think positively — which would mean thinking about throwing strikes, not about walking someone — but as long as it worked he wasn’t going to change anything.

Quality starts and the Royals

The Royals are 26th in baseball when it comes to quality starts; that’s a minimum of six innings pitched and a maximum of three earned runs allowed. On Sunday Edinson Volquez threw three innings before a blister forced him to leave the game. On Saturday Danny Duffy threw one inning before the Cleveland hitters forced him to leave the game.

Do the math and that’s … let me see … 14 innings of relief pitching required in two days and that’s a very good way to wear out a bullpen. The starters need to go deeper and the Royals hope that happens tonight with Yordano Ventura.

The Edinson Volquez medical report

Volquez showed the media his thumb and it was nasty looking, a dime-sized spot that was bloody and raw. He said it was caused by his two-seamer because that’s where the baseball seams rested when he gripped it.

Hold a baseball and feel the seams and then imagine those seams being scraped down a sore spot. That’s what was happening when Volquez released the ball. I mentioned that he was missing the strike zone on his arm side and wondered if he was opening up his front side too soon. Edinson said maybe a little, but he mainly thought he was missing arm side because it hurt when he released the ball and he wasn’t finishing off those pitches.

Moustakas’ fifth-inning single

In the fifth inning Mike Moustakas singled on a groundball to right field. It’s worth noting that before Mike bunted against the shift, that was exactly the kind of batted ball that a second baseman — playing in short right — would have been there to field. Bunting against the shift got Moose a hit even when he pulled the ball.

Why rain delays make the media fatter

The game was delayed two hours and 17 minutes and those rain delays are really hard on the media; we’re bored, so we eat. Baseball teams throw food at the media like we’re being fattened up for slaughter and generally speaking, the media is obsessed with food.

A reporter who has absolutely no idea what the starting pitchers’ ERAs are or how they threw in their last outing can tell you what’s on the menu for that night. After the media requested ice cream — because we clearly don’t get enough food — the Royals complied and now you can go over and make an ice cream Sundae any time you like, assuming the other reporters haven’t scraped the tub of ice cream clean.

It’s a really unhealthy lifestyle; we sit on our rear ends, watch baseball and gorge ourselves. I’d write more about how unhealthy the other reporters are, but I’ve got to go polish off some leftover gizzards and livers that are calling out to me from the refrigerator.

The next two series

As I write this the Detroit Tigers are 18-11 and the Texas Rangers are 12-16. Obviously baseball teams want to win every game, but just as obviously they won’t. That being the case, make sure you don’t get swept by the good teams (winning a series is a bonus) and then beat up on the teams that are scuffling. In this case that would mean taking at least three out of four from the Rangers.

Also pay attention to nights off; they can be dangerous and nights off on the road are even worse.

I once took a men’s amateur team to a national tournament and before the flight to Arizona was completed a stewardess came on the intercom and said the plane had been drank dry and the rest of the passengers could thank my team.

The night, before our first game, my starting pitcher came by the room to ask if I had any bigger glasses than the plastic ones in his room — and he was drinking bourbon. By the end of the evening my center fielder was being propped up by a wall. The next day we went out and dropped a double header and that was pretty much it for our tournament hopes.

Clint Hurdle called and asked how my team had done and I asked Clint if he’d ever seen those old, politically incorrect Westerns where the Indians got into the firewater — that was my team. Clint started laughing and said: “So you found out it’s hard to win on the road.”

Clint then explained that when a team was at home, it was at home. On the road there was no telling where the players were.

I’m telling you this because A.) I just remembered that story and it was pretty funny and B.) The Royals play a day game on Saturday and then have a night off with a night game on Sunday. So guys don’t even have to worry about getting up early — yikes.

On the other hand, that night off is in Detroit; how much could go wrong?

(Tigers fans, send your negative emails to the address below.)

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

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