Judging the Royals

Alex Gordon and a game of adjustments

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon hit a three-run home run off Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson during the first inning of Wednesday’s game.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon hit a three-run home run off Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson during the first inning of Wednesday’s game. The Associated Press

On Wednesday night, Alex Gordon hit a three-run home run on a 3-2 change-up. Alex swung like he knew the change-up was coming and he kinda did. On Tuesday night, Gordon had three plate appearances in which he found himself in a 3-2 count and he got something off-speed each time.

In Gordon’s first at bat on Tuesday he got a 3-2 change-up from Trevor May and swung through it for a strikeout. In his second trip to the plate Gordon eventually got another 3-2 change-up from May (Alex fouled off two 3-2 fastballs) and walked. In Gordon’s third trip to the plate the count never got to 3-2, but in his fourth trip the count went full again and Gordon got a 3-2 slider from Casey Fien and singled.

So when Alex went to the plate in the first inning of Wednesday night’s game and the count went 3-2, it seems like he had a pretty good notion of what he might see. The Twins’ Kyle Gibson threw a change-up — and a bad one at that — and Gordon hit it out of the park.

It’s called a game of adjustments for a reason, and Alex Gordon adjusted.

Did Kurt Suzuki make a mistake?

I just ran a piece about Kurt Suzuki and what a smart, well-prepared catcher he is. But it appears that Kurt called one too many 3-2 change-ups to Alex Gordon. On the other hand, if Gibson had not thrown that change-up right down the middle, maybe it would have worked.

In the big leagues, baseball is often a game of cat-and-mouse: is the hitter the kind of guy who adjusts or is the hitter someone you can keep getting out in the same way? And if the hitter has adjusted, what has he adjusted to?

When I talked to Kurt Suzuki last season, he mentioned Alex Gordon as a tough out and thought Gordon was tough because he wouldn’t come off his pitch; if Gordon was looking heater away, he wouldn’t let the pitcher dictate what he swung at — Gordon would sit heater away all night until he got it and when he got it, he wouldn’t miss.

So maybe Suzuki thought Gordon was still sitting fastball and he could get away with a change-up. But after the game Gordon said he remembered the 3-2 change from the night before and looked for it again.

Catchers are trying to figure out what hitters are looking for and then give them something else or appear to give them the pitch they’re looking for and put the hitter in swing mode. So if Suzuki thought Gordon was sitting fastball, a pitch that appeared to be a fastball — a change-up — would do the trick; if well-executed. Or if Kurt thought Alex was thinking no way they throw me another 3-2 change-up, maybe doing it again would have worked. I’ve heard of hitters crushing a ball for a home run and then a smart catcher calling the same pitch in the next at-bat. The hitter eliminates that pitch, because he’s thinking they won’t throw that pitch again, and then the hitter gets caught flat-footed when they do.

See? Once you start playing cat-and-mouse, this stuff can make you crazy.

Whatever his reasoning I can guarantee you Kurt Suzuki had a reason for that 3-2 changeup and the next time I see him I’ll ask what it was.

Torii Hunter flips out

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a tantrum worth watching; Torii Hunter gets called out on strikes, turns and argues with the umpire, gets tossed and before departing, starts taking things off — batting gloves, jersey, etc. — and throws them on the field.

Blame part of that on Salvador Perez.

The pitch was well outside, but Sal made it look more like a strike by setting up outside and receiving the pitch in the middle of his body. The umpire looks down and sees a pitch centered between the shin guards and calls strike — which makes hitters crazy. Hitters aren’t looking at shin guards and all they know is a pitch they couldn’t reach is being called a strike.

So Torii Hunter flipped out, but Salvador Perez and a nice bit of catching had something to do with it.

Remember when everything was awful … five days ago?

Last Saturday, the Royals lost 4-2 to the Texas Rangers; it was their ninth loss in 11 games and things looked pretty bleak. Wednesday night the Royals completed a sweep of the Minnesota Twins — their fourth straight win — and Kansas City is back in first place.

Big-league players and coaches are more accustomed to winning and losing streaks than most big-league fans and media members. Here’s one of my favorite baseball sayings: “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s a- - every day.” (Man, these guys really know how to coin a phrase, don’t they?)

In a sport where losing 40 percent of your games makes you a great team and failing in 70 percent of your at-bats sends you to the Hall of Fame, you can’t get too upset about a rough patch, they’re going to happen.

So be patient when they do.

A question about that Hosmer pick

A friend and former teammate asked me about that Hosmer pick from Tuesday night; Alcides Escobar bounced a throw and Eric Hosmer picked an in-between hop to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring. My friend wanted to know if Hosmer should have been “squared up” to the ball so if he missed the pick, the ball would have hit his body and stayed in front of him.

Well, for starters we probably need to define what “squared up” means. Hosmer had his upper body pointed in the general direction of the throw, but once a first baseman stretches, his lower body can’t be squared up.

Wally Joyner was one of the few first basemen I ever saw square up to short hops like an infielder catching a grounder, but when you do that you sacrifice stretching out for the ball. Hosmer needed to stretch because it was going to be a bang-bang play; Kurt Suzuki hit the ball to Escobar’s right and Alcides had to go back into the hole to make the play. And if Hosmer did not make the pick, keeping the ball in front of him wouldn’t have accomplished much; the tying run was going to score anyway.

Another thing to remember is first basemen want to field short hops to their backhand side whenever possible. That puts the first baseman’s mitt palm down and the ball has a better chance of sticking. Play the ball to other side and the mitt has the palm up and a 90-mph-plus short hop has a better chance of hitting the mitt and bouncing out. And playing the ball backhand is generally going to mean playing it off to one side.

I don’t know that I’ve seen Hosmer play a short hop squared up, he’s pretty confident in his hands; plus playing the ball backhand looks cool. And what’s the point of playing in the big leagues if you don’t look cool while you’re doing it?

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

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