Judging the Royals

Royals vs. the Cardinals: a couple things to look for

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) forces out Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas (8) at second and completes the double play on Eric Hosmer to end the fourth inning during Sunday's baseball game on May 24, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) forces out Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas (8) at second and completes the double play on Eric Hosmer to end the fourth inning during Sunday's baseball game on May 24, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

When Rusty Kuntz saw me in the visiting clubhouse he rolled his eyes and asked who paid for me to follow him to St. Louis and bug him with more questions. It was kind of hard to take Rusty’s complaint seriously since he was flapping both arms like a chicken at the time.

I asked what the hell he was doing and Rusty said he had to throw batting practice so he was going to loosen up both arms and throw with the one that felt the best. (I’m 92 percent sure he was kidding.)

I said as soon as he was done doing his Big Bird imitation, would he be willing to show me around the Cardinals ballpark and tell me what to look for. Well, if you ask Rusty Kuntz a baseball question he’s off and flying—pun intended—because he loves to talk about the game.

Playing the corners

I’m sitting in the press box looking down at the field and you can clearly see how the wall angles toward the field just before you get to the outfield corners. Plenty of room behind home plate and in front of the dugouts, but then the walls cut toward the foul lines—and the walls are low.

Rusty said that means a second baseman or shortstop chasing a pop fly in foul territory better pull up before hitting the wall because it will hit him about knee high—a great way to get injured.

And if a ball is hit down one of the foul lines, the outfielder is taking a big risk if he assumes the ball will veer into foul territory, hit the wall and shoot sideways into short left or right field. If the outfielder comes forward to play one of those caroms and the ball doesn’t hit the wall, it’ll probably go for a triple because the outfielder will have to turn and chase it.

If the outfielders stays back near the corners and plays the ball for a double, it’ll probably remain a double because if it hits the wall and shoots sideways, the outfielder will be running forward to field the ball.

So play the ball for a double and make sure you don’t give up any unnecessary triples (although, if the ball is in the right field corner it still has a chance of being a triple because of the longer throw to third.)

Positioning the outfielders for Ventura

With Yordano Ventura able to hit triple digits with his fastball, you’d think the Royals would play batters to hit the ball to the opposite field; but it all depends on how early Yordano establishes his off-speed stuff. If Yordano is throwing fastball after fastball, the hitters will gear up and even if Ventura throws it 100-MPH, big league hitters can still pull it. Establish off-speed early and the hitters have to respect those pitches and the fastball becomes more effective.

Some pitchers try to go as far as they can on their fastball before introducing any secondary pitches, but for a pitcher to do that, he has to locate to the four quadrants of the zone. (Just in case you’re a new Royals fan and haven’t heard that term before: up and in, down and away, up and away, down and in.) If Yordano is relying on his fastball it needs to be on the corners.

Alex Gordon and the wall

I asked Alex if he liked playing here in St. Louis because the wall behind him is right there; he’s got a very good idea of exactly where it is. Alex said that compared to Kauffman Stadium every wall is right there and he pretty much always knows where he is—even if he has a long run to there.

So, yeah, when Alex Gordon slams into a wall, he knows he’s about to slam into a wall—but just keeps going.

More on that Hosmer scoop

If you watched Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer turn a great play to keep the tying run from scoring in a game against Minnesota, you know what scoop I mean.

I got to ask Eric about it and he said it was a very tough hop; he wanted to go back over the bag to create a longer hop but didn’t have time and couldn’t reach far enough forward to create a short hop. So Hosmer got the toughest hop possible—the in-between hop.

Eric said some people think you reach down for those hops and come back up, but he said you need to get low and swing through the hop—stay on line with it and it should hit your mitt at some point.

Hosmer also said he’s cut down on the violence of that swing; in the past he was doing it too hard and he’d sometimes knock the ball back toward the pitcher’s mound.

Why you should worry about Milwaukee

Alex Gordon said he likes playing here because of the atmosphere; big crowds, big weekend series. Eric Hosmer said the series against Minnesota was also easy to get up for: first place was at stake.

And that means the Royals need to watch out for the Brewers; last place team and a weekday series. It would be easy to lose energy and get surprised in Milwaukee—and those are the kind of games you have to win

Related stories from Kansas City Star