Judging the Royals

What the Royals did right on Sunday

Danny Duffy dominated the White Sox on Sunday in Chicago.
Danny Duffy dominated the White Sox on Sunday in Chicago. AP

On Saturday afternoon the Royals played a mistake-filled 13-inning game, but still came away with a win. After that game I wrote about the mistakes they made. But 24 hours later the Royals played a nearly perfect game, and it’s only fair that I write about all the things they did right.

Start with Danny Duffy

On Sunday the Royals bullpen was worn out, so Danny Duffy responded by going eight innings. To go eight innings a pitcher has to do a lot of things right, and Duffy did.

Danny threw 113 pitches and 75 of them were strikes. When hitters see you throw two-thirds of your pitches for strikes, they get in swing mode; Duffy only walked one batter, so there wasn’t much reason to stand up there taking pitches.

The White Sox did have some long at-bats, but 15 of the Chicago batters saw three pitches or less.

Keep the ball on the ground and a batter has to hit the ball right down the line for extra bases. According to MLB.com Duffy had 12 groundouts and two flyouts.

Danny only had four strikeouts, and that might actually be a good thing; he was keeping his pitch count low by pitching to contact and using his defense.

Danny found his curve when he needed it

Pitching as a starter and pitching as a reliever require two different skillsets. If things go well, a reliever is only going to be out there for one inning and 15 pitches or so. If a reliever finds that his curveball isn’t working he has to dump it and go to something else; he has no time to find it.

A starter is in a different situation; if he’s going to make it through the order three times, he’s eventually going to need that curve, so he has to keep throwing it until he finds the right arm slot and release point. So let’s look at Danny Duffy and how he used his curveball:

In the first inning Duffy threw 12 pitches; two were curves, one was a changeup, and none of his offspeed pitches were thrown for strikes.

In the second inning Duffy threw 11 pitches, all fastballs.

In the third Duffy threw two curves; both were balls, and he was going through the order for the second time. Smart hitters pay attention, and by this point the Chicago hitters should have been looking fastball all the way; Danny had yet to throw an offspeed pitch for a strike.

Trying to get away with going through a batting order three times throwing nothing but fastballs is not an outstanding game plan; in fact you should pay attention to see how soon Yordano Ventura starts throwing his off-speed stuff in tonight’s game. He can get fastball happy and pay for it.

But back to Danny Duffy.

In the fourth inning Danny threw a curve and a changeup, both for strikes; he was starting to find the range. If Duffy could throw his offspeed stuff for strikes, the White Sox hitters would have to quit looking exclusively for fastballs.

In the fifth inning Duffy threw four offspeed pitches, two of them for strikes. The changeup and curve were becoming more of a factor.

The sixth inning

Because Danny kept throwing his offspeed pitches when they weren’t working, he found them in time to use them in the sixth inning — and the sixth inning was crucial. The Royals had a 2-0 lead and the White Sox had runners at second and third with one down. The Sox had their three- and four-hole hitters — Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera — coming to the plate.

With the game on the line Danny Duffy threw those two hitters 17 pitches, eight of them curves, seven of those curves for strikes. Abreu and Cabrera struck out, and the White Sox best chance to get back in the game was gone.

The mistake to Saladino

The only run that Duffy gave up was in the ninth inning, and if you paid attention you could see it coming.

Tyler Saladino was in a 2-1 count, and that’s a count where hitters look for a fastball. Just because a hitter is looking for it doesn’t mean you can’t throw a fastball, but it better be in a good location.

When hitters are ahead in the count they look to turn and burn — in regular English that means they want to pull the ball and try to do extra-base damage. So if you’re going to throw a fastball in a fastball count — especially with nobody on base — you might want to throw it to the outside part of the plate. If a hitter in a fastball count wants to look away and shoot for a single to the opposite field, let him — that single won’t hurt you.

But try to go in on a hitter in a 2-1 count and you might get burned; that’s what Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy did, and they got burned. Saladino turned on a 92-mph fastball and hit it out to left center.

The defense was as good as you’ll ever see

One of the reasons Duffy was still pitching in the ninth inning was his defense: Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer put on a clinic.

People who are into numbers tend to discount defense because it’s difficult to measure; people who play the game for a living can see when a defender robs the hitter, and they know how important it is.

The guys who play don’t much care if you put runs on the board or keep runs off the board; they all count toward a win. It’s hard for a guy playing in a corner to make enough plays on defense to keep a weak bat in the lineup, but the guys who play up the middle get more opportunities.

Alcides Escobar had two hits at the plate and probably took away another four from the White Sox — and that’s a pretty damn good day.

Live chat at noon

Today at noon I’ll do my best to answer any baseball and/or Royals-related questions. If I don’t know the answer I’ll make something up. Join in at KansasCity.com.

Talk to you then.

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