In the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s game, the Royals had a 3-0 lead over the Houston Astros, one down and Houston designated hitter Chris Carter at the plate. Kansas City’s starting pitcher Edinson Volquez had thrown five pitches to Carter and the count was 2-2. Volquez had thrown Carter three straight fastballs so catcher Salvador Perez decided to change things up and signaled for a curve.
Throwing an off-speed pitch in Minute Maid Park is risky; the left field boxes are only 315 feet away. Miss location and a routine fly ball in Kauffman Stadium can be six rows back in Minute Maid.
Knowing they were about to attempt a risky pitch, Salvador Perez tapped his head. That’s a catcher’s signal telling a pitcher to “think.” Be smart; the count was 2-2, the pitch did not have to be a strike. Perez emphasized that when he tapped his mitt on the ground; that means “bounce this pitch” — I’ll be ready and block it.
Perez set the target down and away and Volquez let loose with a curve — and it was a bad one.
Instead of bouncing in the left-handed batter’s box, it spun and floated into Carter’s happy zone. Carter crushed it and the Astros were on the board.
A turning point
Edinson Volquez started the night with great stuff. Normally it’s hard to see a fastball’s movement on TV, but on Wednesday night it was clear; Volquez two-seamer was wicked. The Royals were still up by two after Carter’s home run, but even though Volquez got out of the fourth inning with no further damage, that two-strike mistake was a turning point.
Unless the count’s 3-2, when a pitcher has two strikes on a hitter, he does not have to throw that hitter a strike; he can throw a chase pitch: something that starts in the zone and moves out of it. That’s what Perez wanted Volquez to do with Carter, but Edinson hung a curve instead. And two-strike mistakes continued to plague Volquez in the fifth:
▪ Marwin Gonzalez homered on 1-2 pitch.
▪ Jose Altuve singled on a 1-2 pitch.
▪ Evan Gattis singled on an 0-2 pitch.
Mix in a walk and a hit batter and the Royals’ lead was gone; they tied the game in the seventh, but never had a lead after a series of two-strike mistakes in the fifth.
When a pitcher has a hitter 0-2 or 1-2 and gives up a hit, it’s probably a mistake more than good hitting. On Wednesday night, Edinson Volquez made too many two-strike mistakes and the Royals lost a game they could have won.
A bad warning
Edinson Volquez wasn’t the only one who had a bad night; home plate umpire Paul Emmel made a few mistakes himself.
Salvador Perez finally laid off a breaking pitch away and Emmel called it a strike anyway. Getting rung up on ball outside the zone might encourage Perez to just keep hacking — not that Sal needed much encouragement anyway.
But then Emmel made another bad call in the eighth; George Springer and Jose Altuve had been hit by pitches earlier in the game, so when Kendrys Morales got drilled Emmel issued warning to both teams; which was kinda dumb.
If a pitcher hits a batter intentionally he doesn’t do it with a slider, he doesn’t do it in a one-run game and he doesn’t do it with the count 1-2.
Why the Royals got swept
Bottom line: the Astros played a game designed for their park and the Royals didn’t. Houston pitchers did a better job of keeping the ball on the ground or in the middle of the field; Royals pitchers made too many mistakes and allowed the Astros to pull the ball down the lines. The Houston Astros lead the majors in home runs and those close corners are one of the reasons why.
The Royals now start an 11-game home stand and need to make up some lost ground by playing a game designed for their park, Kauffman Stadium.
If you’re a Royals fan you’re looking for pitchers throwing strikes, great defense and speed on the base paths — home runs are nice, but it’s a little harder to do when the left field wall isn’t 315 feet away.
See you at the ballpark.