Judging the Royals

With Yordano Ventura, watch for his secondary pitches

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura
Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura AP

Here’s a quote from Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura: “My confidence is a lot better after today because I was able to locate my pitches and I was able to throw my breaking ball for strikes. It’s definitely a big boost for me.”

That’s what Yordano had to say after beating the Houston Astros 5-1. And if Lorenzo Cain and Alex Rios had communicated a little better, Houston wouldn’t have scored. (More on that in a moment.)

When I asked what to look for when Yordano was on the mound, I was told to pay attention to his secondary pitches and how soon he established them. Ventura can throw 100 mph, but if he can’t throw anything but a fastball for a strike, hitters will wait for those fastballs and be all over them.

Sunday afternoon Yordano went to his curve early; he threw four of them to the second batter of the game — Preston Tucker — and struck him out. By my count, Yordano threw 29 curves, 14 of them for strikes, and 12 changeups, eight of them for strikes.

Fans should remembers that big-league pitchers are not always trying to throw strikes: they throw plenty of chase pitches — pitches that start in the zone and then move out — and if the hitter doesn’t bite, those pitches will be called balls. It doesn’t mean they were bad pitches.

So Ventura threw enough off-speed pitches for strikes that the Houston hitters could not just wait for a fastball — and having to worry about more than one pitch made Ventura’s fastball even better.

In Ventura’s next start, pay attention to his curveball — watch the radar-gun readings for a pitch in the mid-80s — and whether or not he throws it for strikes and you’ll have a decent idea of how well he’ll throw that day.

Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios and the fly-by

A “fly-by” is when one outfielder runs close to another outfielder trying to make a catch, and we saw an example on Sunday afternoon. In the second inning, Evan Gattis hit what should have been a fairly routine fly ball to right-center.

Lorenzo Cain came over to make the catch, but Alex Rios gave him a fly-by and Lorenzo missed the ball.

This is not the first time the two have miscommunicated. I was told it was happening early on because Rios wasn’t used to how much ground Cain could cover; but by now Rios should know what Lorenzo can get to. It didn’t hurt anyone but Ventura on Sunday — he shouldn’t have had a run added to his ERA — but it’s something that needs to get cleaned up before it costs the Royals a ballgame.

Jumping on Dallas Keuchel

Good pitchers are usually good because they have some nasty put-away pitch that they go to once they get ahead of the hitters. In the first inning of Sunday’s game, the Royals hitters gave Dallas Keuchel the chance. They jumped on early pitches while Keuchel was still trying to get ahead in the count and scored four runsk and the way Yordano Ventura pitched, that was enough.

Jarrod Dyson and the art of sliding

In the eighth inning, Kendrys Morales singled and Jarrod Dyson came out to pinch run. Dyson stole second base, and from six floors up in the press box, you could see about 20 feet of skid mark from his head-first slide; it occurred to me that a human being has to be traveling at a high rate of speed to slide that far.

I asked Jarrod about it afterward: At what point do you start your slide?

Dyson said his slide depended on the infielder’s set up: if Jarrod sees the infielder come out in front of the bag, he knows the throw is off-line; the infielder is coming out in front so he can move laterally to catch the off-line throw. Since catchers are right-handed, the throw is generally going off to the right-field side of second base, and that means Jarrod should slide toward the back of the bag — make that tag as long as possible.

If Dyson sees the infielder straddling the bag, he knows the throw is on line and it’s going to be a close play. In that case he goes straight into the bag; he’s not going to avoid the tag — he has to beat it.

After stealing second, Dyson took third as well, and in that case Jarrod said he had to use the bag to slow down. The ground was hard, and he didn’t want to over-slide the base and get tagged out, so he grabbed as much of the bag as he could get as he went past.

The power of positive video

Before the game Drew Butera was watching video of Dallas Keuchel pitch, and I watched a bit of it as well. After a minute or so I realized something and turned to Drew: “They’re all hits.”

Drew explained: In baseball you have to trick yourself. There’s so much failure involved in hitting that you want to see success. Watch Dallas Keuchel get hit and tell yourself that if those guys can hit Dallas Keuchel, so can I.

It must have worked — Drew singled in the fourth inning.

Online chat at noon today

Join in the discussion at noon today when I hold another online chat. I’ll spend a whole lot of time saying I don’t know much about Johnny Cueto, but I’ll try to make it as entertaining as possible.

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

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