The first time I saw Yordano Ventura throw a baseball, it was on one of the back fields of the Royals’ spring-training complex in Surprise, Ariz. I don’t have the greatest eyes in the world, but he was throwing noticeably harder than any other pitcher I had seen that week.
I was standing by the backstop, and 100 mph looked really fast from that distance. I can only imagine what it looks like when you are standing in the batter’s box.
Tuesday night, Ventura spread four hits over seven innings and didn’t give up a single run. The Royals’ offense supplied seven runs, and that manager meant Ned Yost did not have to call on relievers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis or Greg Holland. For the Royals to get a win and for those guys to get a night off is a big deal. It sets the bullpen up for at least the next two nights.
The Royals beat the Cleveland Indians 7-2.
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▪ The Royals rank last in the American League in home runs, but coming into Tuesday’s game, Kansas City was tied for sixth place in doubles. High fly balls are not well-rewarded in a big ballpark like Kauffman Stadium. Low line drives that split the gap are.
▪ The Royals on Tuesday night hit six doubles and scored seven runs. Was Kansas City’s hitting or Cleveland’s pitching responsible? Six different hitters had doubles, and if the Royals hitters are getting hot, they picked a good time to do it.
▪ Lorenzo Cain got his 27th infield hit of the season. Take those infield hits out of his average, and he hits about .240. Being able to run is a huge advantage when it comes to picking up extra hits.
▪ Once again, it appeared Jarrod Dyson did not go full speed on a double-play ball and was thrown out at first base.
▪ Early in the game, Omar Infante got a 1-1 fastball, missed it and then struck out on an off-speed pitch. The key pitch in an at-bat isn’t always the last one. At-bats often turn on earlier pitches. Miss a hittable pitch, and you might not get another one.
▪ Ventura struggled in the first inning, and Dave Eiland, the Royals’ pitching coach, could be seen talking to him in the dugout afterward. It appeared Dave was telling Yordano to stay on top with his arm angle and not allow his front shoulder to open too soon. That can cause the throwing arm to drop and the ball to go high on the arm side.
Billy Butler picked up a couple hits, and, like a lot of other hitters, looked better when he was hitting the ball the other way. Here’s why.
When a hitter tries to pull the ball, he has to get the bat head out in front of the plate. When a hitter gets the bat head out in front of the plate, he has to start his swing sooner. When a hitter starts his swing sooner, he’s easier to fool.
That’s why you see some guys swing at pitches that are nowhere near the strike zone. It probably is because the hitter is trying to pull the ball and get in the short part of the park, the corners.
Hitters who go up the middle and the other way wait longer, see the ball better and generally swing at better pitches. They usually don’t hit for as much power, but they usually hit for a higher average.
The catcher’s signs
When you watch a baseball game on TV, you can see some things you can’t when you attend the game. The main thing is the catcher’s signs. A catcher doesn’t just call pitches, he also helps the pitcher adjust to whatever situation he’s dealing with. The catcher needs to be able to communicate with the pitcher without making a trip to the mound every time he wants to say something.
Here are some common catcher’s signs:
Tapping the front shoulder: Your front shoulder is flying open. When a pitcher’s front shoulder opens too soon, the ball goes all over the place.
Making a throwing motion from underneath: Drop your arm angle. Throw the next pitch from a lower arm slot.
Making an upward motion with the hand: Throw the next pitch above the strike zone.
Two hands, palms down: Slow down. Calm down.
Spinning motion with the forefinger: Speed up. You’re working too slow. This also can mean, “Let’s go to another set of signs.” This happens when the catcher thinks the runner on second base has figured out the first set.
Pointing at the pitcher with his glove: The catcher does this after a pitcher doesn’t get a call. The catcher is telling the pitcher he made a good pitch. Stay right there. Even if the pitch was called a ball, the catcher will get that pitch for him eventually.
Tapping the glove on the ground: Bounce the next pitch. The catcher will block it.
Sliding a hand down his thigh: Deliver the next pitch out of the slide step.
Flicking his thumb as if he’s flipping a coin: Attempt a pickoff.
These aren’t the only signs you will see a catcher use, but if you look for them, you will start to understand what the catcher is communicating to the pitcher.