Judging the Royals

Alcides Escobar and the first pitch of a game

The Royals’ Alcides Escobar ) was called out at first in time to end the third inning against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium, but leading off the game, Escobar swung at the first pitch of the game and singled. According to Baseball Reference, Escobar is hitting .346 and his on-base percentage is .400 as the first batter of a game. The Star’s Lee Judge writes that Escobar’s unorthodox approach is working.
The Royals’ Alcides Escobar ) was called out at first in time to end the third inning against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium, but leading off the game, Escobar swung at the first pitch of the game and singled. According to Baseball Reference, Escobar is hitting .346 and his on-base percentage is .400 as the first batter of a game. The Star’s Lee Judge writes that Escobar’s unorthodox approach is working. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Well, we’ve got to start somewhere, so why not start at the beginning?

Once again, Alcides Escobar swung at the first pitch of the game and once again it worked: Esky singled. According to Baseball Reference, Alcides is hitting .346 and his on-base percentage is .400 as the first batter of a game, so I guess his unorthodox approach is working.

It does put the pitcher in an interesting dilemma. Most of the time, the first batter of the game is going to take at least one strike. That means a pitcher can pour a heater down the middle and get ahead in the count. The first batter takes that pitch to allow his teammates to see pitches and get an idea of what the opposing pitcher has that night.

With that type of leadoff hitter, swinging at the first pitch is done once in a while just to keep the pitcher honest. With Esky, it’s the opposite. He might take a strike once in a while, but if I’m the pitcher and I know Escobar is going to be aggressive right away, do I throw a strike, or do I try to throw a chase pitch out of the zone?

I imagine pitchers are doing what they do most of the time: trying to throw a quality first-pitch strike, not a fastball down the middle. But they can’t count on Escobar taking that first pitch.

The Royals aggressive hitting

It looks great when it works. Hitters are jumping all over the pitcher. But when swinging early in the count doesn’t work, it allows the pitcher to hang around awhile, and that’s what happened Friday night. Houston’s Scott Kazmir threw seven innings on only 91 pitches.

The Royals were facing a pitcher who was on his game, and they didn’t run his pitch count up fast enough to get him out early.

Guthrie also threw seven, and that’s good

Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie also went seven innings, but in his case, it took 111 pitches. But by grinding it out, Guthrie saved the Royals bullpen. It sucks to lose, but it sucks even worse to lose while blowing up your bullpen.

Franklin Morales threw two innings of relief, so if he’s not available on Saturday night, everyone else in the Royals bullpen should be.

Kauffman vs. Minute Maid

Kauffman Stadium is much deeper in the corners than Houston’s Minute Maid Park. The Royals got swept earlier this season in Houston, and part of the reason was that fly balls that would have been routine outs in Kansas City left the park in Houston. So theoretically, the Royals should give the Astros a tougher time here at home.

It didn’t happen Friday night.

Kazmir was able to take advantage of the size of the park and kept the ball in the middle of the field. It’s much easier to hit a home run if the hitter can pull a ball down the line.

Watch for warning-track outs here in Kansas City. Unless they’re hit to dead-center field — where Minute Maid is actually deeper than Kauffman — those probably would be home runs in Houston.

Keep an eye on Colby Rasmus

The Astros right fielder was playing right-handed hitters ridiculously shallow. Rasmus must have great faith in his ability to go back on the ball. Friday night, I was waiting for someone to burn him, but it never happened.

The off-side outfielder — right field for right-handed hitters, left field for lefties — usually plays somewhat shallow because most hitters do not have opposite-field power. But Rasmus looked as though he was playing rover in a softball game. I mean he was really shallow.

Keep an eye on right field and Coby Rasmus’ positioning for the rest of the series.

Cheslor Cuthbert is back

Dusty Coleman has been sent back to the minors, and Cheslor Cuthbert has been called up. Christian Colon didn’t go anywhere.

Ask around, and you hear that Coleman had the reputation of being a better defender than Colon. In a small sample size (five for 15 big-league at-bats), Cuthbert appears to be a bigger offensive threat than Coleman.

According to The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff, Cuthbert has spent most of his minor-league career playing third base, but he “also has played first and has a handful of games at second.” Manager Ned Yost said Cuthbert can play anywhere in a pinch.

Well, I can play anywhere in a pinch, too. I’d just be awful no matter where you put me.

A couple of things to think about: To be a true utility infielder you have to be able to handle playing shortstop. If Escobar has to come out of a game, who would replace him?

And a “handful” of games at second base probably isn’t enough. Guys who try to play second base often have trouble with the 6-4-3 double play. They have their backs to the runners and haven’t developed the feel for when they can turn the double play and when they need to bail out or they’re going to get hurt by a takeout slide. If you see Cuthbert at second, watch closely on any D.P. started by the shortstop.

The series against the Astros resumes at 6:10 tonight.

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