Judging the Royals

The Royals get rained out, but writers never do

Fans leave Busch Stadium after Sunday’s game in St. Louis between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals was officially postponed after a three-hour rain delay.
Fans leave Busch Stadium after Sunday’s game in St. Louis between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals was officially postponed after a three-hour rain delay. AP

No chat today

Despite what you may have heard, I will not being doing a chat today at noon. As I write this I’m in a hotel in St. Louis and at noon I expect to be sitting somewhere on I-70 in a traffic delay.

So far the chats have gone better than expected, mainly because I didn’t expect much. But we’ve had twice as many questions as I can answer and the questions have generally been good ones. We’ll try another online chat either later this week or early next week.

As you might have already heard by now, Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals got rained out, but only after we sat around watching the grounds crew pull the tarp on and off the infield several times. Finally they announced the game had been postponed, and all the reporters left the press box and trudged down to the clubhouse to get some quotes.

Bottom line:We have to write a story whether the Royals play a game or not.

When the Royals are on the road the manager’s postgame news conference generally takes place in the visiting manager’s office — a room designed to comfortably accommodate one person. But after games, it accommodates Ned and every reporter who wants to hear what Ned has to say — which is why I was almost standing in Ned’s bathroom as I listened to him.

And here — in no particular order — is what Ned had to say:

▪ Edinson Volquez will pitch on Monday and Chris Young’s start will be pushed back to Tuesday. That keeps Volquez on schedule and gives Young more time to prepare for a team he didn’t know he’d be facing.

▪ The postponement kills another off day. Ned said he would’ve stayed there all night to get the game in; the Royals were in St. Louis ready to play. Now they have to find another day to play the game, and that will eat up some future off-day. And sitting around a clubhouse in St. Louis playing cards in your underwear while you wait to find out if you’re playing a ball game is not considered an off-day.

▪ Andy McCullough complimented Ned on the powder blue uniforms the Royals planned to wear (both uniform top and pants were powder blue — as God intended) and Ned said they looked kinda awful when he first put them on, but saw that they looked nice on TV. I saw them on Ned and on TV and I can confirm both of Ned’s opinions.

▪ I asked what he did during the rain delay and Ned said he had a buddy in town and he, his buddy and Luke Hochevar spent a good part of the delay talking deer hunting. Ned said the important thing to do during a rain delay was avoid the food room — you get bored and decide to kill time by eating, and that’s not going to do you any good at all — a piece of advice that came about three hours too late for those of us killing time in the press box.

(Hey, I warned you that we have to write a story whether anything happened or not. Columns like this are the result.)

OK, how about some real baseball information?

Before the game Rusty Kuntz and I sat in the dugout and talked baseball, and Rusty said some interesting stuff about hitters being reluctant to move around in the batter’s box. Players these days like to find one spot in the box, get comfortable there and never move. But Rusty pointed out that moving in the batter’s box is smart baseball.

Say a guy is a soft-tosser or throws a lot of changeups: move up in the box.

Say a guy likes to air it out and blow gas: move back.

If you’re right-handed and need to hit the ball to the right side to move a runner from second to third, back off the plate: make those pitches feel like they’re away from you and that makes it easier to hit the ball to the opposite field.

If you’re a lefty in the same situation: get on top of the plate so everything feels like an inside pitch and pull the ball.

That led Rusty to tell me about a left-handed hitter who would get on top of the plate with a runner on third and less than two outs. Pitchers would see him crowding the dish and come inside to jam him — which is just what he wanted. He’d get jammed and hit a weak ground ball to second and the runner would score easily.

So when you see one of these situations, don’t forget to check out where the hitter is standing in the box. You might be able to figure out which guys are trying their hardest to get the job done and which guys refuse to change what they’re comfortable doing.

Back to Saturday’s game

So now that we’re focusing on batters moving in the box, let’s go back to the sixth inning of Saturday’s game. There was one down, the tying run was on third, and Salvador Perez was at the plate.

Sal wanted to hit the ball in the air to the outfield; that way, the runner could tag and score.

The pitcher wanted Sal to hit a groundball to third; that would freeze the runner because third is too close to home for the runner to make it.

That being the case, the pitcher threw a fastball in on Sal’s hands; he was hoping for a jam-shot grounder that would be hit to the third baseman and keep the runner where he was. Perez took the first pitch for a called strike, but as we’ve already seen, a lot of hitters are reluctant to take a second called strike; they don’t like to hit in two-strike counts.

So when the pitcher threw another fastball in on Sal’s hands, Sal swung and gave the pitcher what he wanted: a weak grounder to third.

Had Sal backed off the plate — changed his position in the box — those pitches on his hands would have been ball one and ball two. If Perez had backed off the dish, the pitcher would have had to go back out over the plate to throw strikes and Perez would have had some pitches to handle.

The four things you have to do to get a bunt down

And as long as we’re talking about moving around in the box, here are the four things Rusty teaches to help hitters get bunts down:

1.) Move up in the box

2.) Close your stance

3.) Hold the bat at eye level

4.) Get a soft, early bounce

Moving up in the box helps bunted balls stay fair; you’re closer to fair territory and that means a ball that would have rolled just foul if you were back in the box stays fair if you’re up in the box.

Closing your stance — having your front foot closer to home plate than your back foot — allows you to bring your head down into a good position to see the ball and protects you if the pitch comes inside. You can rotate your front shoulder toward the catcher and take the pitch in the back.

Holding the bat at eye level helps you see the ball and makes you drop the bat down to the ball. If the ball is above your bat it’s not a strike and dropping the bat down to the ball helps prevent pop ups.

Focusing on a soft, early bounce simplifies things. Don’t worry so much about placement; just get the ball down early and if the bunt is soft, someone will have to run a ways to get it.

What a pitcher’s finishing position might tell you … whether you want to know it or not

A while back pitcher Jason Vargas got a hot shot back to the mound and took a line drive off his … ummm … OK, if you saw the play you already know what that line drive hit. Vargas went down, still made a play and because he was OK, all his teammates had a good laugh.

Whenever a pitcher has a line drive hit back to the mound some announcer is sure to remind all the kids in America that if they want to pitch, they should make sure they finish their pitching motion in a good fielding position, squared-up, facing home plate.

Excellent advice — if you’re wearing a protective cup.

Not all pitchers do. I can tell you from personal experience wearing a protective cup is uncomfortable as hell. Don’t believe me? Go down to your local sporting goods store, buy a protective cup and wear it to work the next day. Now you tell me how good it felt to take it off at 5:01 PM. On the other hand, maybe your job does not include having 100-mph line drives aimed at your crotch — and if it does you might want to contact your union rep.

Anyway, since cups are so uncomfortable and some players never wore them as a kid (even though that seems like a really bad idea), there are pitchers in the big leagues who don’t wear protective cups. And if you see a pitcher finish sideways to home plate, you might have spotted one.

Usually that’s not considered a good finishing position, but if you’re not wearing a protective cup, it’s a great one.

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

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