Judging the Royals

Indians 6, Royals 4: Free base runners cost Kansas City the game

Royals starter Jason Vargas gave out too many free passes to Indians batters Wednesday night in Cleveland, and it cost Kansas City the game, blogger Lee Judge writes.
Royals starter Jason Vargas gave out too many free passes to Indians batters Wednesday night in Cleveland, and it cost Kansas City the game, blogger Lee Judge writes. The Associated Press

In the first inning Wednesday night in Cleveland, Royals starter Jason Vargas walked the Indians’ Carlos Santana. Santana scored when Yan Gomes homered. In the fifth inning, Vargas hit Michael Bourn with a pitch. Bourn scored when Jose Ramirez doubled. In the sixth inning, Royals reliever Aaron Crow walked Mike Aviles. Aviles stole second, advanced on a groundball and scored on David Murphy’s sacrifice fly.

The Royals’ pitchers walked six batters, hit one, and three of them scored. Kansas City lost by two runs. Baseball requires you to control what you can: walks and errors. If you don’t do that, you might pay the price. Wednesday night, the Royals did.

Indians 6, Royals 4.

Pitch selection again hampers the Royals

With the bases loaded and the count 3-1, Mike Moustakas chased ball four, a pitch up and out of the strike zone. In the ninth inning, Lorenzo Cain took a fastball down the middle, then chased a breaking pitch in the dirt for strike three. Salvador Perez had been waving at anything that came close to the zone … and some things that hadn’t come close to the zone.

When the Royals’ batters are selective, they can hit. When they start chasing pitches — especially with a runner in scoring position — the offense falters. This has been going on for most of the season. If the Royals get to the postseason and hope to do anything, improving their pitch selection would help.

Pitching inside

Pitchers without great stuff — Jason Vargas comes to mind — need to pitch inside off the plate more than pitchers with great stuff. The guy without a great fastball doesn’t have enough velocity to pitch inside on the plate. He needs to back hitters off the dish and open up the outside corner. Let a hitter hang out over the plate, and he takes that outside corner away from the pitcher.

Cleveland’s Yan Gomes hit a three-run home run on a change-up away. When guys are having no trouble leaning out and covering the outside corner, the pitcher needs to move them off the plate.

Not getting the calls

There were borderline pitches low in the zone that could have been called strikes, but weren’t. That hurts some pitchers more than others. If a guy has great stuff, he has a better chance of getting away with being in the heart of the zone. A guy without great stuff — a guy who makes a living with control — has a better chance of getting whacked when he comes into the heart of the zone.

Gordon gets another assist

Alex Gordon’s background as a third baseman helps his throwing from the left field. Gordon is not afraid to charge grounders, has a quick release, uses a shorter throwing motion than most outfielders and has a very accurate arm.

The Indians’ Roberto Perez found that out when he hit a ball off the left-field wall and Gordon threw him out at second base.

By the way, Cain got too close to the wall on a double, and when it bounced off the wall, it went over his head. Guess who was all the way over in center field, backing up the play?

The guy who has three Gold Gloves.

Of course, outfielders are supposed to back up one another, but it doesn’t always happen. Appreciate it when it does.

How the Royals got to Danny Salazar

In Tuesday night’s game, Cleveland starting pitcher Danny Salazar looked like Cy Young for two innings. He gave up two singles, but struck out six Royals and looked as if he was in total command of the situation. But Salazar didn’t make it through the fifth inning. What changed?

The Royals’ approach at the plate.

In the first two innings, the Royals’ hitters were falling behind in the count. Once Salazar got two strikes on a batter, he was throwing a nearly unhittable splitter and very good slider. In their first at-bats, Nori Aoki, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Omar Infante all took called strikes. Hitters sometimes will do this to see whether the pitcher is going to throw strikes that night. Salazar was.

By the third inning, the Royals changed their approach. They started swinging earlier in the count in an effort to avoid the two-strike off-speed stuff that Salazar was throwing. When a pitcher sees the hitters are going to swing and not just stand there taking hittable fastballs, he often will try to be more fine with his location and hit corners. If he misses those spots, the pitcher falls behind in the count and might start throwing more fastballs in fastball counts.

The second time through the order, the Royals were swinging at a lot more fastballs. That was when the hits started falling in. But if you’re going to swing early in the count, you need to hit the ball hard and get some hits. Otherwise, you’re letting the pitcher off the hook and giving him easy innings.

When you watch a game, you often see several types of baseball. Hitters and pitchers adjust (at least the smart ones do), and the game changes.

If you know what to look for, you can see the adjustments.