Judging the Royals

Joe Blanton and establishing secondary pitches

Kansas City Royals pitcher Joe Blanton.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Joe Blanton. KansasCity

One of the many things I don’t know much about is pitch sequence and selection; why throw this pitch after that pitch?

I want to understand this process better than I do, so I’ve been asking questions that might shed some light on the subject. And one of the things I’ve been encouraged to do is pay attention to how soon a pitcher establishes his secondary pitches. If hitters don’t have to worry about curves, cutters, sliders or change-ups, they’ll lean on the fastball any time the pitcher has to throw a strike.

That’s what happened Tuesday night.

Matt Garza threw 10 straight fastballs to start the game and Lorenzo Cain hit the 10th one out of the park. Cain’s success with a fastball is probably why Eric Hosmer saw a curve in the next at-bat; but Garza went to his breaking stuff a bit too late.

Because starting pitchers have to see hitters multiple times, they like to save pitches for later at bats; go as far as they can with the fastball, then mix in the secondary stuff as necessary. But to rely on fastballs alone, a pitcher needs to hit his spots: make a mistake with the fastball and a hitter can send it a long way; that’s what happened with Cain — he got a 3-1 fastball out over the plate. By the second time through the Royals order, Garza was mixing in curves and sliders on a regular basis.

So what’s all this got to do with Joe Blanton?

He’s getting a start Wednesday night, and you might want to pay attention to how soon Blanton goes to his secondary pitches and whether or not he throws them for strikes. He’s got an ERA of 1.80 as a reliever and the last few times out Blanton was immediately throwing his entire arsenal at the hitters; that’s worked really well.

But as a reliever he might not see a hitter twice, so there’s no point in saving pitches. As a starter, I wonder whether he’ll take the same approach. Ned Yost has said Blanton will be allowed to throw 75-80 pitches and if he averages 15 pitches an inning that will get Blanton through five innings; he’ll see each hitter multiple times.

Will Blanton wait to establish his secondary stuff or go to it right away? And if he goes to it right away will that make it less effective the second time through the order?

Watch the radar gun: if it shows 90 or above you probably just saw some kind of fastball and anything below that is probably something off-speed. If you pay attention you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re watching — or you can screw around on your smart phone, drink beer and just wait for someone to hit a home run.

(You know, now that I’ve written it down, that second plan doesn’t sound so bad.)

How the number of outs changes the way you run the bases

In the first inning of Tuesday’s night’s game Alcides Escobar hit a ball down the left field line; in Kauffman Stadium, that’s a sure double — in Miller Park, not so much.

If a ball gets past the third baseman and goes down the line in Kauffman it will travel all the way into the corner unless the outfielder cuts it off first. In Miller Park the wall angles out toward the field and the ball Esky put in play hit that angle and caromed into short left field; much closer to second base.

The base-running rule of thumb goes like this: with nobody out you take no chances.

You’ve got your lead-off man on base and three outs to move him around the bases. Escobar took a chance when he tried to turn a single into a double and got thrown out. That’s a poor base-running decision. But if there had been two outs the same decision would have been a better one.

With two outs you take chances to get to two places: second base and home plate.

If a runner stays at first base with two outs he’s probably going to need two more two-out hits to drive him home. So try to move into scoring position and cut that down to one hit. You take chances to score with two outs for a similar reason; stop at third and you need another two-out hit. And if the guy on deck is not a good hitter, you really push the envelope because your chances of scoring are probably better than the chances of the on deck hitter driving you in.

Esky’s decision to try for a double with nobody out really looked bad when two batters later Lorenzo Cain hit a bomb.

Alex Gordon makes a better base-running decision

So far we’ve covered how you run the bases with nobody out and two outs, so what about running the bases with one out?

With one out you take chances to get to one place: third base.

And in the fourth inning, that’s what Alex Gordon did. Gordon led things off with a single, Alex Rios struck out and then Omar Infante hit another single. Gordon made the turn at second and headed for third. Get to third base with one out and you can score without benefit of a hit. Alex slid in safely and Infante moved up to second base on the throw.

With one down and two runners in scoring position, they Brewers brought their infield in. They were already down 2-0 and didn’t want to fall further behind. So when pitcher Chris Young swung and pounded a ball straight down in front of home plate, the ball still bounced through the drawn-in infield.

Obviously there can be other factors involved than the number of outs — score, inning, who’s on deck, possibly pinch hitters, field and weather conditions — and any of this stuff can change what you want to do on the base paths.

But Tuesday night in Milwaukee, Escobar made a poor base-running decision and Alex Gordon made a good one.

The second half of a big series

The Kansas City Royals against the St. Louis Cardinals was without a doubt, a big series. Two teams at the top of their division, a big rivalry and huge crowds to there to watch. That’s part of why this series against the Brewers could have turned into a letdown series: a mid-week series with smaller crowds against a team in last place.

While in St. Louis, Eric Hosmer talked about the need to stay focused and not take Milwaukee lightly; these are the game the Royals have to win. It’s hard to build your record against the best teams — you do it against the teams that are scuffling.

And after two wins in Milwaukee, the Royals now have a chance to sweep a big series.

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