Even though some fans might like to think ballplayers should go 100 percent all the time or managers should treat every game like it’s game seven of the World Series, that’s not realistic. Play like that and you’d be burned out not long after the All-Star Game. Professional athletes and teams have to pace themselves and, at times, managers have to admit the odds of winning a game aren’t good — and that was the case Wednesday afternoon.
Unless it’s a must-win game, a manager cannot pull his starting pitcher at the first sign of trouble; do that and you burn up your bullpen. Burn up your bullpen and one loss can turn into two or three.
Those hit-by-pitches were a warning sign
Jeremy Guthrie had given up two runs in five innings — not bad — but there were warning signs that things might soon get worse. It took him 31 pitches to get through the first inning and he hit Yan Gomes with an 0-2 pitch; both were indications that Guthrie was not sharp.
In the second inning Guthrie gave up his second run and hit another batter; this time it was Jason Kipnis.
Over the next three innings Guthrie avoided trouble and the Indians didn’t score, but he hit another batter — his third of the game — with an 0-1 pitch and Michael Brantley was the victim.
Hitting three batters when you don’t mean to, indicates a pretty serious lack of command.
So why not pull Guthrie after five innings?
So the Royals are down 2-0 going into the sixth inning; why not pull Guthrie after five? I didn’t get to ask Ned Yost that question, but a logical answer might include the name “Corey Kluber.”
The Indians starting pitcher was throwing lights out and the Royals had no runs and only one hit after five innings. When an ace is dealing, two runs might be a bigger mountain than you can climb — and that was the case Wednesday.
If you think Kluber is throwing so well he’s going to make those two runs stand up, you don’t waste any more pitching than you have to on a game that might already be lost.
The Royals bullpen; who pitches when
At this point the Royals bullpen consists seven pitchers; eight once the team decides which starter isn’t a starter any more.
Ned Yost has four guys he tends to use when he’s ahead in the game, but the game is still close: Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
Ned’s got a couple guys he can use situationally or when he’s behind: Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar.
And every bullpen has a long reliever; the guy who pitches multiple innings when his team is way behind or way ahead. Right now that guy seems to be Kris Medlen.
So after five innings, behind two runs to last year’s Cy Young winner, you don’t want to use any of those first four relievers. If the game is already lost because Kluber is pitching so well, you might as well send Guthrie back out at 74 pitches and ask him to grind through another inning or two; that way you don’t use up any more relievers than you have to.
And if your offense suddenly figures Kluber out, then you can go to your best relievers — but it didn’t happen that way.
The sixth inning
Guthrie got the first batter he faced, but then gave up a home run and the score was 3-0. Because Kluber was pitching so well, falling further behind on the scoreboard is a reason not to pull Guthrie; it probably won’t change the final outcome and it will just burn up relief innings. Better to let Guthrie stay out there and save the pen for the next day’s game.
But after Guthrie got hammered for five more hits in a row — two of them homers — he was at 101 pitches and had thrown 27 of them in the sixth inning. Let a pitcher stay out there and pitch under duress for too long and it’s a good way to hurt him; either physically or mentally. Ned Yost let Guthrie throw as long as possible in order to rest his bullpen for the next series in Toronto.
Sometimes you have to lose one game to win two down the road, and Wednesday the Royals took care of the losing part of that formula; Cleveland 12, Kansas City 1.
Get used to players resting
Neither Lorenzo Cain nor Salvador Perez were in the lineup Wednesday and it sounds like the Royals have more plans to rest players. This is what smart teams with a big division lead do: they prepare for the playoffs.
The Royals are not fighting down to the wire right now, so they can afford to let some players sit. The hard part is calculating just how much rest is enough and how much is counter-productive; you don’t want a team to get used to losing and letting up on the gas too soon.
If the Royals are pacing themselves and another team makes a run at them, they might regret resting some guys in games they might have won otherwise — but Wednesday’s game is not on that list. When you get beat 12-1, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it except forget it and move on.
Jarrod Dyson and the protective cup
If my eyes didn’t deceive me, Jarrod Dyson got hit in the crotch twice during the Cleveland series. Once when a groundball came up on him, the second time when a foul ball bounced straight back up.
A coworker asked why any ballplayer would go on a field without a protective cup. I said it’s because they’re uncomfortable as hell and if you can sneak by without wearing one, you might try. Then the coworker said you must get used to them after a while.
Spoken like a guy who has never spent 162 days wearing one.
That’s like saying having someone use sandpaper to rub the tip of your nose is something you’d get used to: it doesn’t work that way. Protective cups get more uncomfortable as time goes by, not less.
Even so, Jarrod might want to think about wearing one for a while — just to give certain tender body parts a rest.