Judging the Royals

How Royals pitcher Joe Blanton collected a win in his first major-league start since 2013

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Joe Blanton threw in the fifth inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 17, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Joe Blanton threw in the fifth inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 17, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

On Wednesday night, Royals pitcher Joe Blanton started a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, threw five innings, gave up one earned run and got a win.

Some starting pitchers go as far as they can on their fastball; they want to save their off-speed stuff for later at-bats. Asked about that strategy after the game, Blanton smiled and said he didn’t have that kind of fastball.

Joe Blanton can’t just rear back and air it out; Joe Blanton has to pitch.

Three pitches into Wednesday night’s game, Blanton threw a cutter. Five pitches in and Blanton threw a change-up. Before the first inning was over, he had thrown a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a cutter and a change-up. Before the night was over he’d mix in a slider and a curve. If Blanton could heave a kitchen sink 60 feet, 6 inches, Royals fans might have seen him throw one.

After the game, which marked Blanton’s first major-league start since 2013, when he was with the L.A. Angels, Blanton talked about warming up in the bullpen and realizing you have a good slider that night. But try to save that slider for the later innings and you might get whacked around in the early innings — before you ever get to that slider. So what’s the point of having a good one?

You just wasted a good slider by not throwing it early enough.

You can also lose that slider if you ignore it for three innings; you better throw some — even if you bounce them in counts where you can afford to throw a ball in the dirt. Even a bounced slider gives you a feel for the pitch. Bounce a slider and then back off just a tad when you need to throw it for a strike.

Throwing his secondary pitches early in the game kept Brewers hitters from leaning on Blanton’s fastball, and even if Blanton fell into a fastball count, he’d generally throw a pitch with some movement — a sinker or cutter. Blanton threw strikes and changed speeds.

Blanton knew he was on a pitch count of 75 to 80 pitches, and if everything went right that would get him through five innings. On Wednesday night, everything went right and Blanton threw five innings and picked up a win.

Because Joe Blanton didn’t just throw, Joe Blanton pitched.

How Blanton gave up that run

The only run the Brewers scored off Blanton came in the second inning. Carlos Gomez had doubled and then, with two outs, Scooter Gennett tripled. According to Royals manager Ned Yost, Gennett hit a back-foot slider: a pitch that’s supposed to drop down out of the strike zone, but in this case didn’t drop down far enough.

Outfielders are positioned on the fastball; it’s the most common pitch thrown, so you position your guys where you think that pitch will be hit. But Scooter Gennett hit an 86 mph breaking pitch, not a 93 mph fastball. Lorenzo Cain was positioned in shallow left center and had a long run to deep right center but still came close to making the catch.

With Gennett on third, Blanton kept his cool and limited the damage by striking out Jean Segura.

Alcides Escobar and another first-pitch ambush

Alcides Escobar has grown very fond of the first-pitch ambush: He leads off the first inning and swings at the first pitch he sees. Most pitchers start the game by grooving a fastball, so Esky is trying to ambush that pitch. If it works, the Royals are in business; if not, the Royals are in a hole. That’s because the opposition pitcher has thrown one pitch and is one-third of the way through his first inning.

If Esky’s ambush fails — and Wednesday night he popped that first pitch up on the infield — does that mean that Mike Moustakas, the Royals’ No. 2 hitter, has to take a called strike before swinging?

Ask Mike and he’ll say not necessarily; does it really make a huge difference if the Royals make two outs on two pitches instead of three?

So Escobar’s first-pitch ambush might lead to a Moustakas second-pitch ambush. Pitchers see Esky make an out on one pitch and figure Moose is taking the next one. If Mike gets another grooved fastball — depending on the pitcher and the situation — he might take a hack.

Why that triple fell in the eighth inning

During the St. Louis Cardinals series, Cain and Alex Rios miscommunicated and a ball fell between them for a triple. (It should have been scored an error, but the scorekeeper decided to give a Cardinal a hit instead.)

Anyway … it happened again Wednesday night.

This time, the victim was Franklin Morales; he gave up a run on a ball that should have been caught. In the postgame news conference, Yost said that once again Cain and Rios miscommunicated; they both arrived at the same time, both called for the ball at the same time and both pulled up at the same time.

Ned said part of the problem has to do with Rios being out of commission on the disabled list for so long; he and Cain haven’t gotten totally used to each other and they’re still figuring out what the other guy can get to.

Ned also said coach Rusty Kuntz will get it cleaned up.

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

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