Judging the Royals

If Franklin Morales balked, why didn’t the first base umpire call it?

Royals relief pitcher Franklin Morales
Royals relief pitcher Franklin Morales JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Friday night the Royals lost to the Blue Jays in extra innings by a score of 7-6. A lot happened over 11 innings, but let‘s go back to the balk call that put the winning run in scoring position.

The Royals and Blue Jays were tied in the 11th and left-handed reliever Franklin Morales had a runner on first and Josh Donaldson at the plate. Morales picked up his front leg, move it slightly back, then stepped toward first and threw the ball to Eric Hosmer. If Morales’ front leg broke the invisible plane between the pitching rubber and first base, he had to deliver the ball to home plate—otherwise it’s a balk.

Now ask yourself which umpire has the best view of that and normally makes that call?

If you said the first base umpire, you’re right, but the first base umpire—Scott Barry—did not think it was a balk because he didn’t call it; home plate Angel Hernandez did. And if you’re wondering how the umpire at home plate can see if a pitcher’s front leg goes slightly behind the rubber, join the club.

It was a bad call that changed the game.

And why pitch to Josh Donaldson?

After Angel Hernandez decided to become part of the game and made a bad balk call, the count was 3-2 on Josh Donaldson. The Royals had one out and first was open, so if they had walked Donaldson they’d put the double play back in order, but then have to deal with Jose Bautista.

After the game Ned Yost was asked if they’d considered intentionally walking Donaldson and he said yes, but decided to pitch to him because Franklin Morales had Donaldson in a two-strike count; better to make one pitch to Donaldson than three to Bautista.

But…

Overall, Donaldson is hitting .295 and Bautista is hitting .231. Look at the last seven days and the difference is even more pronounced: over the last week Josh Donaldson has hit .400 with an .850 slugging percentage—over that same time span Bautista is hitting .136 with a .136 slugging percentage.

Donaldson is hot, Bautista is not.

And Morales didn’t have to intentionally walk Donaldson; with two strikes hitters have to be very aggressive and Morales could have thrown a chase pitch off the plate. Instead, he and Salvador Perez challenged the league’s leading RBI guy and lost.

Madson gives it up and Herrera wasn’t ready

The Royals entered the seventh inning up 6-3. Ryan Madson came on to relieve Johnny Cueto and if you’re a Royals fan, you probably already know why: Wade Davis had a tight back so Ned was going to use Madson for the seventh, Kelvin Herrera for the eighth and Greg Holland for the ninth. Coming into the inning, not a bad plan; Madson had an ERA of 1.69.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men: on this Friday night, Madson didn’t have it.

Madson gave up three hits in a row—the third hit was a Josh Donaldson double—and 12 pitches after Madson came in the game the tying run was in scoring position. That’s when fans watching on TV saw Kelvin Herrera warming up in the bullpen.

When a pitcher gives it up too quickly it can catch a bullpen flat-footed: you can’t warm up the next guy too soon and if the pitcher in the game gets hit right away, it might mean you’re warming up the next guy too late.

I don’t know if Madson was allowed to face the go-ahead run—Jose Bautista—because Ned Yost thought he could still pitch his way out of it, but I do know Kelvin Herrera wasn’t ready.

The Royals slowed things down with a coaching visit, Madson then faced Bautista and Bautista smoked a single to left field. Donaldson only made it to third base, so at the point the Royals had the tying run on third, the go-ahead run on first. Ned stalled as long as possible, then went to out to the mound to pull Madson and bring in Herrera. A walk to Edwin Encarnacion loaded the bases and after that Herrera got a double play ball—but it allowed the tying run to score and that’s how the game got o extra-innings.

Hindsight is 20-20 and you have to second-guess because your first guess isn’t worth a damn, but had Herrera been ready one batter earlier—and Bautista hits .143 off him—the results might have been different.

If you paid attention, you liked Johnny Cueto

The Royals new starting pitcher, Johnny Cueto, put up a quality start—six innings pitched, three earned runs—and that led some people to describe his debut as just OK…pretty good, but not great.

But if you look closer, there was a lot to like in those six innings.

Among all 30 big league teams the Toronto Blue Jays are first in runs scored, first in RBIs, third in home runs, first in slugging percentage, second in on-base percentage and first in OPS. Putting up a quality start against the Toronto offense—especially in their home park—ain’t easy.

Everybody’s already talked about the fact that Cueto has more deliveries than UPS, but fans that were locked in could see movement on his fastball and the ability to throw off-speed pitches for strikes in fastball counts.

Johnny Cueto also took charge of his game.

Cueto shakes Perez

Johnny Cueto was not shy about shaking off Salvador Perez or calling him out to the mound to talk about what he wanted to do. After the game there was a lot of talk about Johnny and Sal needing to get on the same page.

Salvador Perez is immensely physically gifted; he can catch and throw with the best of them. Because Sal throws base runners out, we tend to think he must be a great catcher, but at times his pitch-calling leaves something to be desired.

Cueto’s not the only guy that shakes Perez off; some of the more veteran pitchers do it all the time. Some of the younger guys tend to follow Sal’s lead—and sometimes they have reason to regret doing so.

We usually don’t pay much attention to pitchers shaking off catchers, but today Yordano Ventura has to walk through the minefield that is the Toronto Blue Jays lineup. Pay attention and see if Yordano shakes off Sal and what the results are.

Cueto and the interpreter

In the post-game interview Johnny Cueto used Pedro Grifol as an interpreter. At one point Johnny apparently forgot he doesn’t speak English and answered a question without Pedro’s help—and the answer was in English. Then Johnny remembered he doesn’t speak English and waited for Pedro to interpret the next question.

Cueto’s former manager—Dusty Baker—said we shouldn’t let Johnny fool us; Cueto doesn’t really need an interpreter. I’ve seen Kendrys Morales—who uses an interpreter doing interviews—having a conversation in English off camera.

So what gives?

If these guys actually speak English, why use an interpreter?

Couple of reasons: first, if they act like their English is worse than it is, reporters tend to leave them alone and most ballplayers would prefer to be left alone.

The second reason was demonstrated for me one day when former Royal Joakim Soria—whose English is very good—answered a question about a poor performance by saying: "It doesn’t matter."

Soria then stopped and said, no wait, the real answer was: "It doesn’t change anything."

Joakim’s English was good enough for him to realize the first answer sounded like he was saying he didn’t care. The second answer was better: he was saying despite poor results on that particular day, he would continue with the same approach.

Players who speak enough English to get by might feel like they don’t need an interpreter just to have a conversation, but if it’s an interview they don’t want to be misunderstood. And if the player does manage to say something controversial, the interpreter can give whatever answer is more politically correct.

I get it because: "Mi Espanol es muy malo."

I think I just said my Spanish is very bad, but I can’t be 100 percent sure I didn’t insult someone’s mother. If I was playing baseball in a Latin American country and didn’t use an interpreter, I’m pretty sure we’d be at war within a week.

So if Johnny Cueto wants to use an interpreter when doing interviews, I understand why.

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