Kurt Suzuki, the Twins catcher, is known as a smart guy. I got lucky and Kurt spent some time talking to me a couple years ago and since then we always find time to chat when he comes to town. Saturday afternoon I asked Kurt about the Royals hitters; what was their reputation and how did the Twins approach them?
Kurt said the main thing he tells the Twins pitchers is to forget striking out the Royals hitters; the 2015 Kansas City Royals strike out less than any other team in baseball.
And here’s why Kurt warns his pitchers to not worry about strikeouts:
Pitchers—especially starters—are not pressing the gas to the floorboard all the time. They pace themselves so when they need to reach back for a little extra, there’s a little extra there; a few more miles an hour, a bit more break on that slider. But doing that eats up energy and pitches.
Fans might be applauding a starting pitcher who is racking up strikeout after strikeout, but to get those strikeouts the starter might be using up too much energy and too many pitches. He’s actually setting his team up for a loss when he leaves the game early and exposes the weakest part of any pitching staff; the middle relievers.
Ask a veteran pitcher—a guy not obsessed with strikeouts—and he’ll tell you an out’s an out. Get them anyway you can and the best way to get them is early in the count on soft contact. And don’t worry about striking people out, especially if you’re facing the Kansas City Royals.
Just ask Kurt Suzuki.
What to watch when you’re watching on TV
Pretty simple really; TV gives you a view of the catcher’s mitt that you can’t get at the ballpark—unless you’re standing behind the pitching mound and for some reason big league teams tend to frown on fans doing that. So focus on the catcher’s mitt and see how much it moves to receive the pitch. If it moves a lot the pitcher is missing his spots and he might not be around long. If the mitt stays in position the pitcher is on with his location and has a better chance of a good performance. And that brings us to defensive positioning.
You can’t play shifts if they don’t hit the mitt
Anytime you play some kind of dramatic defensive shift, you’re counting on the pitcher hitting the mitt. Say you play a left-handed hitter to pull and the pitcher throws a belt-high fastball away. The hitter will have an excellent chance of driving the ball to the opposite field and beating the shift. That’s why you might see a team play straight up early and shift in later at bats. They sometimes go through the order once to see how their guy is pitching. If his location is good, then they’ll shift.
Joe Mauer came in hot
Saturday night Joe Mauer went 4 for 5 and one of those four was a home run. When Joe arrived in Kansas City he was hitting .262, but after three games has raised his average by 10 points—6 for 12 will do that. But his hot streak didn’t start here: smart catchers, pitchers and baseball fans want to know what a guy’s been doing just before he arrives and in his previous two series—Milwaukee and Cincinnati—Joe Mauer went 7 for 20.
And if Joe Mauer is going to hit, try to keep those hits to singles; Mauer is not a base stealer and might be forced to play the game 90 feet at a time.
How to stop the hot hitter
Ummm…you probably can’t—he’s hot. You can try to work around him in crucial situations, but do your best to keep him out of crucial situations. The hot hitter will get his hits; get the guy in front of him and the guy behind him—that limits the damage a hot hitter can do. So to some degree the key to stopping Joe Mauer is actually stopping Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe.
Rusty’s big league debut
I recently wrote about Dusty Coleman and how a player’s big league debut can be nerve-wracking. Lots of players have pretty good stories about their first big league game and Rusty Kuntz is no exception.
Rusty was a September call up in 1979. His minor league season had ended, he knew he was going up, so he headed for the big club, arrived in the clubhouse and put on his first major league uniform. A pretty cool moment until Rusty asked what they wanted him to do.
They wanted him to take off the uniform.
Rusty had shown up a day too early and wasn’t on the active roster. So Rusty put his street clothes back on and went out to sit in the stands—the first major league game he ever saw.
Rusty played in five games that season and in his first at bat, Gorman Thomas made a diving catch of a line drive. After that Rusty went 0-fer until he singled on a ground ball up the middle and wound up with a robust 1 for 11, .091 batting average. His lifetime number is .236. Even so Rusty snuck in seven years in the big leagues and anyone who finds a way to spend seven years in the big leagues is a pretty good baseball player and—in Rusty’s case—an even better coach.