Judging the Royals

Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist; just remember you wanted this

Kansas City Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto stretched and smiled before the Royals’ game against Cleveland on Tuesday.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto stretched and smiled before the Royals’ game against Cleveland on Tuesday. The Associated Press

As near as I can tell, everyone’s pretty happy about the Royals acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. So if you’re one of those people, remember that you wanted this, even if one of the players the Royals gave away becomes a big star on another team.

I once asked a Royals coach — now former Royals coach — what approach he favored: do you keep the pipeline flowing, send a trickle of minor leaguers to the big leagues and settle for being a good, not great, team over a long period of time — or — do you go all in when you have the chance and push your chips into the middle of the table?

He said go all in.

Chances to win the whole thing don’t come along very often, so take your shot. Look just a couple years down the road and you can see the Royals will probably have difficulty keeping the core of this team together. So if you see a window of opportunity, climb through it. But you can’t have it both ways: if you like what the Royals did to strengthen this team in 2015, don’t start whining about it in 2018.

The Royals are taking their shot.

Last night’s game

If you haven’t seen the first out of the bottom of the ninth inning last night, stop reading this and go find a replay; Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer combined on one of the best plays you’ll see this year or any other year.

Omar was going to his right, caught the ball backhand and shoveled it to Esky without using his throwing hand. Esky caught the ball with his bare hand, spun and threw a strike to Hosmer.

Everyone says you can’t practice a play like that, but that’s not totally true. Watch enough batting practice and you’ll see middle infielders work on shoveling the ball to a pivot man without ever using their bare hand. But it’s one thing to do in BP; quite another to do in a big league game with the pressure on.

Holland makes a wise decision

The game ended on a Mike Aviles chopper through the middle; it went right to Omar Infante, Omar caught it, then stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.

But before the ball got to Omar it went right past pitcher Greg Holland. Holly started to reach for it, then pulled his hand back — that’s a wise decision from a veteran pitcher. Young pitchers who are amped up will try to catch the ball and we’ve all seen what interesting things a pitcher can do with a baseball when he decides to throw one anywhere other than home plate.

But to do what Holland did, you have to look around before the play and know where your defense is. And you also have to remember that you’re falling off the mound and won’t end up right in line with second base. Holly falls off to the first base side so when he let the ball go by, it went right to Omar Infante.

They were not stealing on Salvador Perez

The Cleveland Indians were stealing bases during Tuesday’s game like looters stealing flat-screen TVs during a riot. But they weren’t stealing those bases off catcher Salvador Perez.

Most big league catchers can catch and throw the ball to second base in 2.0 seconds; Sal can do it in 1.8. But it appeared pitcher Chris Young was slow to the plate and does not hold runners well. Chris threw 4 2/3 innings and by my count attempted six pickoffs — Bruce Chen would try that many on one runner.

But I’ve also been told to watch the quality of the pitch if the pitcher attempts three consecutive pickoffs and it’s surprising how often that pitch is a ball or belted.

Some pitchers prefer to concentrate on the batter, so remember that when you look at how many stolen bases a catcher gives up — not all those bases are stolen off him.

More rulebook fun

In the fourth inning, Lorenzo Cain hit a ball over Brandon Moss and he ran to the wall to catch it. The ball was in his glove temporarily, then came out when Moss hit the wall. The umpires ruled no catch and the Cleveland Indians challenged the ruling.

Here’s how the rulebook defines a catch:

A CATCH is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball.

It’s pretty clear the Moss play was not a catch and the Indians lost the challenge.

Jarrod Dyson and a base he didn’t steal

In the eighth inning with the score tied 1-1 and runners on first and third, Alcides Escobar hit into an inning-ending double play. The runner on first base was Jarrod Dyson and immediately after the play someone sent Star beat writer, Andy McCullough this tweet:

As I understand it, Jarrod Dyson has a green light when it comes to stealing bases — and if he doesn’t have it, he ought to. The base runner is the one who knows what kind of lead he’s getting, how good the footing is and how well he’s able to read the pitcher’s move.

Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer was using something I’ve heard described as a “quick step” to deliver the ball to the plate; not a slide step or full leg kick — something in-between. Lorenzo Cain had already been caught stealing, so Dyson may have felt he needed everything in his favor before he could go.

And with Alcides Escobar at the plate Bauer was throwing nothing but fastballs — the hardest pitch to steal on — and mixing in pickoff attempts. Esky only took one pitch and after that he swung at the next two. So even if he wanted to go, Dyson didn’t have many opportunities.

The Royals have a sign that tells the runner with a green light that he must steal on the next pitch and a sign that tells a runner with a green light not to steal on the next pitch. With the go-ahead run already on third and one down, Ned Yost may have liked the odds of Alcides Escobar hitting a fly ball better than the odds of Jarrod Dyson stealing second base.

But keep in mind the decision not to steal may have been Jarrod’s not Ned’s.

How and why players exchange uniform numbers

OK, so Johnny Cueto comes to KC and covets the number Franklin Morales wears. If Franklin is willing to give it up, they figure out what Cueto is going to do to say thank you and rumor has it Franklin will be getting a new watch — and it ain’t gonna be a Timex.

No matter what anyone tells you, star players get treated differently and if you’re a middle reliever and the team’s number-one starter has a particular number he likes to wear, it’s considered cool to make the switch. And if you don’t particularly care about your uniform number, you can wind up with a pretty nice parting gift.

So then Ben Zobrist comes to the team and apparently wouldn’t mind wearing number 18, but that’s Rusty Kuntz’s number. I don’t know what Ben will do for Rusty, but at Rusty’s age I’d hold out for a hip replacement.

(The sad part about that joke is I’m older than Rusty — so I’d hold out for two hip replacements.)

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