Judging the Royals

Jaime Garcia and the first-pitch fastball

St. Louis Cardinals' Randal Grichuk, right, is congratulated by teammate Jaime Garcia after scoring a run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals, Friday, June 12, 2015, in St. Louis.
St. Louis Cardinals' Randal Grichuk, right, is congratulated by teammate Jaime Garcia after scoring a run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals, Friday, June 12, 2015, in St. Louis. AP

If you were Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia and you came up with a runner on third in the second inning and you’d seen all eight of your teammates get a first-pitch fastball, what pitch would you look for?

If you said slider you’re missing the point.

Like the previous eight batters Garcia got a fastball and to make things even simpler for a guy starting the night with a batting average of .000, it was a fastball away. You have to be quick on a fastball in, but a fastball away gives a hitter a bit more time. Garcia reached out and slapped the ball past Mike Moustakas for a single, an RBI and his first hit of the season.

Yordano Ventura and pitch selection

As the Royals try to figure out the meaning of "right hand weakness" let’s try to figure out what Yordano Ventura was doing on the mound Friday night. It was reported that Ventura’s right hand started to bother him in the third inning and that’s when his fastball velocity fell into the low 90s. Since Yordano can throw his changeup in the high 80s, figuring out what pitch is what by looking at velocity is a little tricky.

But it sure looks like Ventura threw one too many first-pitch fastballs when Jaime Garcia was at the plate. The next batter, lead-off man Kolten Wong, was the first hitter to see a changeup to start an at bat, so maybe it was Garcia’s single that convinced the Royals to change what they were doing, or maybe they always planned to switch up the second time through the order; either way it’s pretty clear that Yordano Ventura likes to throw his fastball.

And if I could throw a baseball 100 MPH I’d probably like doing it, too.

But in the big leagues hitters will get around on that C-note if you don’t throw something else for strikes. Otherwise, every time a pitcher needs to throw a strike, hitters will look dead-red.

The importance of off-speed strikes

By my count Ventura threw six curves in three innings, but only two for strikes. He had a little better luck with his changeup, but like I said, the velocities tend to get mixed up at the end of his outing.

On the other hand, Jaime Garcia was throwing sliders, curves, changeups and cutters for strikes and you see how he did.

When a pitcher can throw his off-speed stuff for strikes hitters have to respect that and then the pitcher’s fastball gets better. Hitters can’t just wait for a fastball count and then lean on the heater they know is coming.

If any pitcher—and that includes guys who throw 100 MPH—can’t throw his secondary pitches for strikes he’s in for a rough time.

Don’t overlook Alcides Escobar’s nice AB

Esky took an 0-fer, but in there he had a nice, veteran at bat. Yordano Ventura had just made the second out of the third inning and was headed back to the dugout. Instead of walking right up to the plate, Alcides hung around the on-deck circle as long as he could.

He also adjusted his batting gloves, he took his time getting in the box; it was a very leisurely trip to the plate.

Escobar was buying time for Ventura to rest. You could have made some money betting that Alcides would take at least one called strike; he took two. Normally pitchers will pour in fastballs in this situation, aware that the hitter is going to take pitches, but Jaime Garcia didn’t trust the baseball instincts of Alcides Escobar; he threw strikes, but did it with off-speed pitches.

Esky eventually flew out to centerfield, but it was still a nice, veteran at bat.

Two triples that weren’t

Friday night the scorekeeper awarded two triples to the Cardinals and that appeared to be bad scoring. John Jay was awarded a triple, but after hitting the ball into the right-field corner Jay almost came to a full stop after rounding second base.

Jay was waiting to see what relay man Omar Infante would do with the ball. What Infante did was lob a weak throw home and Jay then continued on to third.

The second non-triple was the ball that fell between Lorenzo Cain and Alex Rios. Randal Grichuk lined a ball into the gap, but it hung up long enough for both Cain and Rios to get there. After the game Lorenzo said he and Alex miscommunicated; Alex called for the ball, but was then distracted by Cain arriving at about the same time as the ball came down and Alex missed the catch.

In that situation the centerfielder is in charge; if Rios wants the ball and Cain wants to pull up, he can, but Cain can also overrule Rios and say he wants to make the catch.

The first triple looked like a double, the second one looked like an error.

The Royals miss an opportunity…maybe

In the bottom of the ninth inning Eric Hosmer singled with two outs. The score was 4-0 so the tying run was still in the dugout. Nevertheless the Cardinals got reliever Trevor Rosenthal—a guy with 20 saves—up and throwing in the bullpen.

If Salvador Perez had somehow got on base, the tying run would move to the on-deck circle, it would turn into a save situation and there was a good chance Rosenthal would come in the game.

Rosenthal had a day off before this series started and a look at his game log reveals the Cardinals will use him three days in a row if they have to. But on that third day would his stuff be the same? It’s an incredibly small sample size, but this season Rosenthal’s ERA does go up on a third day of pitching.

If all you do is focus on one game, Perez not getting on base didn’t change anything, but if you think about the series, Perez getting on base might have meant a less effective Trevor Rosenthal on Sunday.

Any time you can make the other team use their best relievers—even if you don’t win—it’s worth doing.

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