Judging the Royals

Wade Davis and the inside pitch

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) chases back Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis to first in the eighth inning during Tuesday's baseball game on June 2, 2015 Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) chases back Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis to first in the eighth inning during Tuesday's baseball game on June 2, 2015 Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Monday night the Royals beat the Twins 3-1 and Wade Davis pitched the eighth inning. I was watching the game with my sons when Wade threw a 97-MPH fastball up and in to Trevor Plouffe; one of my sons asked if it was intentional.

I told him to watch the next pitch.

When a pitcher buzzes the tower—baseball slang for a fastball under the chin—watch the next pitch. Once a hitter has been backed off the plate with high heat, he’s not so eager to lean out to cover that outside corner.

Salvador Perez set up for a fastball down and away and Wade hit the mitt; it barely moved—neither did Plouffe. He took another 97-MPH fastball for a called strike. So if Davis had that kind of control on the down-and-away pitch, yeah, I’d say the up-and-in pitch was intentional. Big league pitchers will tell you that they have to pitch inside. You’ve got to back the hitter off the dish or he’ll lean out and make that outside corner the middle of the plate.

Sounds logical; so why don’t more pitchers do it?

Fear, mainly. Some pitchers are afraid of hurting a batter, some pitchers are afraid of a batter getting mad and charging the mound and others are afraid that if they miss their spot the hitter will pull the ball into the short part of the park—down a foul line for a home run or extra bases.

There are a lot of words I could use to describe Wade Davis when he’s on the mound—"afraid" isn’t one of them.

How to spot a tough guy

OK, a pitcher goes up and in and then goes to the outside corner on the next pitch. If a hitter still leans out and covers that pitch, you’re looking at one tough dude. 90 plus up around the head did not deter him from covering the outside corner.

In fact, a lot of hitters have a pretty good idea the pitcher is going away after coming up and in, but don’t want to risk diving to the corner—what if the pitcher doubles up on that inside pitch?

And that brings us to how an umpire can get a batter hurt.

How an umpire can get a batter hurt

I was watching Russ Morman play a minor league game and while he was at the plate he turned and said something to the umpire. Turning toward the umpire makes it obvious to the crowd that something’s going on and umpires generally don’t like it. Russ knows that as well as anybody so I wondered why he did it and asked him about it after the game.

"I told him he was going to get somebody hurt."

The umpire was calling strikes on pitches well off the outside corner and that meant hitters were going to have to dive out to cover those outside pitches and that meant sooner or later the pitcher would have to come back inside to stop the hitter from diving.

Combine a hitter that’s diving with a pitcher coming inside and it’s a recipe for getting someone hurt. That’s why hitters who continue to dive after being pitched up and in are considered tough…or slightly crazy.

Should the Royals get rid of Yordano Ventura?

Here’s a comment left on the web site after Yordano Ventura lost his cool in his last start:

I'm beginning to think that Ventura may be the Ryan Leaf of baseball, the anti-Shields who may undo the delicate fabric of a young baseball team, someone who's spent his entire young life being coddled at the expense of all others around him, a malady that transcends baseball and applies to football, basketball et al. (and truth to tell, sports in general). Eric Hosmer's admirable attempt to calm him I think is more a cry for help _ after all, Eric's own career and future is tied to this guy, and so is everybody else's on the squad. It might be best to move Ventura while he still has some value and before he implodes _ and so the team can acclimate itself to new staff additions. I don't think Ventura's behavior is going to change any time soon; you're not going to undo overnight how he's been shaped over years of his young life.

My response

For starters, let’s not forget Yordano Ventura is 24 years old. I don’t know about you, but I did a lot of dumb stuff when I was 24—heck, I’ve got one foot in the grave and another on a roller skate and I still do dumb stuff.

Yordano is also a kid from another culture where showing emotions on a baseball field is considered more acceptable. He’s still figuring out how to approach being a big league pitcher and handling failure with a spotlight on him. It’s one thing to scuffle in the minors; it’s another thing to scuffle when it’s going to be shown on ESPN.

I’d say Yordano has a million-dollar arm, but that’s selling his arm short; you don’t see talent like that every day, so you might want to give him time to develop. And since I’m on the subject: since starting this job I’ve heard from fans who wanted to get rid of—or at least demote—Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

Sometimes it takes a while for a guy to figure it out and sometimes it’s well worth the wait.