Judging the Royals

Michael Bourn’s base-running mistake helped the Royals

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) fields a fielders choice hit by Cleveland Indians' Mike Aviles before throwing center fielder Michael Bourn out at second to end the top of the seventh inning during Wednesday's baseball game on June 3, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (35) fields a fielders choice hit by Cleveland Indians' Mike Aviles before throwing center fielder Michael Bourn out at second to end the top of the seventh inning during Wednesday's baseball game on June 3, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Here’s the situation: It’s the fifth inning, the score is 4-2, the Indians have runners at first and third, there are no outs, and Royals pitcher Jason Vargas is on the mound.

When there are runners at first and third, the contact play should be on. That means the runner on third breaks for home on contact as long as the ball comes off the bat at a down angle. That forces the defense to choose between trying to throw the runner out at home — which will keep a run from scoring, but should result in only one out — or trying to turn a double play.

That’s what should happen, but didn’t.

Mike Aviles hit the ball back to Vargas, and Michael Bourn should have been sprinting for home. That would force Vargas to throw to home plate to prevent the run or concede the run and try to turn a double play. After the game Ned Yost said Vargas probably would have ignored Bourn because he wasn’t the tying run; Vargas would have let the run score and turned to start a double play at second base.

Instead Bourn hesitated, let Vargas look him back and then, when Vargas threw the ball to second base, Bourn hesitated again because Omar Infante looked him back. The run was right there for the taking and Bourn didn’t take it.

If Bourn had scored, the Royals would have played the rest of the game with a one-run lead, and that would have changed everything: the way the Royals set up their defense, the pitches they threw and what they were trying to accomplish at the plate.

The Royals won a 4-2 game, but a base-running mistake by Michael Bourn helped.

Alcides Escobar might be changing the scouting reports

Royals leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar once again went after the first pitch of the game, and this time he doubled. Esky is making a habit of that because pitchers are making a habit of throwing him a first-pitch fastball strike to start the game.

If you begin to see opposing pitchers starting games off by throwing something off-speed to Escobar, you know the scouts have taken notice and told their pitchers to be careful about giving Alcides a hittable fastball on that first pitch. And that reminded me of something Jason Kendall told me: how smart hitters can change the scouting report.

Scouts are always watching — the next series is with Texas, so the Rangers undoubtedly have an advance scout here to see what the Royals are up to — and smart hitters can use the fact that they’re being scouted.

Back in his playing days Kendall was known for taking the first pitch. But at the end of a series, if he had an at-bat late in a game that was unlikely to change the game’s outcome, Jason would go up and hack at the first thing he saw.

He wanted the advance scout to go back to his team and tell them to be careful about throwing Kendall something hittable on the first pitch. So if Jason could get the pitchers in the next series to nibble, his chances of starting an at-bat 1-0 improved tremendously. Kendall was trading an at-bat that probably wasn’t going to change a game for a future at-bat that might. If you’re scrambling to stick in the big leagues, you probably can’t afford to give away any at-bats; if you’re an established veteran, you have the luxury of thinking this way.

(Sometimes when I have this stuff explained to me I realize I how little I know about how the game is played at its highest level.)

Corey Kluber had a scuffed baseball — and gave it back

In the sixth inning, Alex Gordon struck out and the Cleveland Indians threw the ball around the infield. One of the throws bounced, and when the ball was thrown back to the mound, Corey Kluber examined it, probably saw the scuff that the bounce caused and signaled for a new ball.

This drives veteran pitchers and catchers crazy.

Pitchers are not supposed to scuff baseballs, but sometimes they hand you one that’s already scuffed, and smart pitchers know what to do with it. The scuff gives the ball extra movement, but some pitchers feel like they can’t control that movement and want a new baseball. Tell a veteran player that and he’ll say maybe the pitcher ought to go down to the bullpen with a bucket of scuffed balls and practice.

Lately Corey Kluber has been pitching better, but if Wednesday night’s game was any indication, it ain’t because he’s scuffing baseballs.

Wade Davis was not available; here’s why

Next time you’re watching a game, see a reliever throw well and think: “Why don’t they send him out for another inning?” remember Wednesday night’s game. Jason Vargas threw six innings and gave up two earned runs; it was time to go to the bullpen.

But when the bullpen gates opened it was Ryan Madson pitching the seventh, not Kelvin Herrera. That’s because Herrera needed to pitch the eighth instead of Wade Davis. So what happened to Wade?

He threw 38 pitches Tuesday night (about two innings worth), and he was cooked — unavailable for Wednesday night’s game. Fans — and media members — will sometimes want the manager to manage a game as if the game were played in isolation: forget tomorrow night, win this game right now. Managers — at least the ones that are going to survive — have to manage this game and tomorrow’s game and the one after that.

You were right, the umpires were wrong

In the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians there was a bang-bang play at first base; the Royals attempted to turn a double play and got the first out, but the trail runner, Jose Ramirez, was ruled safe.

The Royals decided to challenge the play and once the replay was put on the scoreboard, the 30,361 fans in attendance saw why; the replay appeared to clearly show that Ramirez was out. The play was reviewed in New York and through the wonders of modern technology, they got the call wrong.

The wizards in New York let the bad call stand.

When plays are reviewed and they still get them wrong — and this wasn’t the first time — someone is sure to say that the people in New York must have views and angles not available to the rest of us and we should pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. (And if you don’t get that joke you should stop whatever you’re doing and go watch the Wizard of Oz.) But back to my diatribe.

The next day, about half a day too late, MLB admitted they got the call wrong and here’s the excuse they offered up:

“This is one of those rare circumstances in which the super slow motion view was delayed and the Replay Official reached a decision without the benefit of that information.”

So 30,361 people — and a fair number of them probably had a beer in their hand — could see that Ramirez was out from the replay on the scoreboard, but the geniuses in New York could not make the same determination without the “super slow motion view.”

So if he wants to get the calls right, maybe next time the replay official ought to come sit in Kauffman Stadium and watch the scoreboard — and I’ll bet someone would even buy him a beer.

Why Greg Holland threw four down-and-in pitches to Brandon Moss

Greg Holland came out to pitch the ninth inning, and the first batter he faced was lefty Brandon Moss. Holland threw a slider down and in, and Moss fouled it off his front leg. Moss was wearing a shin guard and the ball appeared to catch more shin guard than leg, but that shin guard tells you something: Moss tends to foul balls off his front leg.

And when a batter fouls a ball off his front leg, pitchers — being unsympathetic to hitters — tend to throw another pitch in the same spot: “Man, that looked like it hurt … so here’s another one.”

That’s just what Holland and catcher Drew Butera did: they threw another down-and-in pitch to Moss, and he fouled this one off his knee — and that one looked like it hurt like hell. The fake ambulances came out (if a trainer comes out to check on a player and the player does not leave the game, the trainer was a fake ambulance), Moss hopped around on one foot, waited for the pain to subside and finally got back in the box.

So where do you think the next pitch was?

If you said down and in, you’re starting to think like a big-league pitcher. Moss either fouled this one off his foot or came damn close because he was shaking it around afterward.

At some point, when a batter is slowing beating himself to death by fouling balls off his body, his will to live — or at least his will to hit — leaves him. He just wants to get the at-bat over without another baseball hitting him in the shin. On the fourth pitch — down and in — Moss hit a lazy fly ball to center field.

After the game Eric Hosmer and I talked about the Moss at-bat, and he confirmed what I already knew: foul a ball off your body and you better expect another pitch in the same spot. I asked Hosmer if he’d ever really smoked himself in the foot or leg and he said no, but then added: “Don’t jinx me.”

So if Eric fouls a ball off a body part in Thursday’s game it’s going to be my fault — and the fault of a smart pitcher.

Drew Butera and the backup catcher job

In the postgame news conference manager Ned Yost talked about the job Drew Butera did calling and receiving during the game. Ned said Butera presents a nice target, blocks and receives well and does his homework to prepare to himself for that night’s game.

When Erik Kratz went down, Dayton Moore said Kratz was still the backup catcher, but Butera’s audition seems to be going very well — so stay tuned.

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

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