Judging the Royals

Greg Holland blows a save: Is it time to panic?

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland walked off the field after being relieved in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland walked off the field after being relieved in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The Kansas City Royals’ magic formula for winning baseball games is pretty simple: grab a lead somewhere in the first six innings, then turn the ball over to one of the best bullpens in the business. That formula has worked so well that the Royals have won 111 games in a row when leading after seven innings.

Wednesday night manager Ned Yost failed to follow that blueprint — he sent starting pitcher Edinson Volquez out for the eighth inning — and the Royals streak was broken.

Thursday night Ned Yost followed the blueprint, pulled starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie after six innings and turned the lead over to the bullpen, but the Royals lost again.

Ryan Madson — not Kelvin Herrera — came out to pitch the seventh, gave up a couple hits, but no runs and the Royals looked to be in great shape; they could give the ball and the lead to Wade Davis and Greg Holland and the game would be over. And after the Royals scored two more runs in the bottom of the seventh, it looked like a done deal; with a four-run lead the rest of the game looked like a formality.

They’re humans, not robots

That’s what Ned Yost said after the game and here’s why he said it: Wade Davis, who makes the Terminator look overly emotional and vulnerable, had a rough inning and gave up two runs.

Ned Yost blamed it on rust — Wade hadn’t pitched in seven days — and Wade told me he just wasn’t as aggressive and focused as he needed to be with the first two batters. I asked if his lingering back issues had anything to do with that and Wade said it was possible.

When athletes come back after an injury they sometimes come back tentative: can I make a hard cut on that knee, can I really let a pitch go without tweaking my back?

So the first two hitters — Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout — got hits. Calhoun scored on a Trout double and after that Wade said he felt confident that his back was OK. It sure looked OK; he threw one pitch at 99 mph. After Trout’s double, Wade got locked in and got the next three batters in a row. Unfortunately, Trout scored after two groundballs, but the Royals were still in good shape; handing a two-run lead over to closer Greg Holland.

Holland blows the save

Greg Holland faced six batters and didn’t get an out. Holland gave up four runs, four hits, two walks and threw a couple wild pitches in the process. In his postgame press conference Ned Yost said Holland’s stuff was good, but he lacked command.

I asked catcher Drew Butera — the guy on the receiving end of the pitches that actually made it to home plate — if he would agree with that assessment and he said yes.

And here’s what Greg Holland himself had to say: “I felt really good. My fastball felt good, my slider felt good. But every time I made a mistake it got hit. It was one of those nights. I really don’t know what to say. I made some bad pitches and I had to pay for them tonight. We lost the game and it was my fault.”

Vahe Gregorian gets trampled

In the movie “Animal House” there’s a scene in which Kevin Bacon is trying to calm down a crowd that’s running toward him in a panic. Kevin keeps repeating: “All is well” — but the crowd doesn’t believe him. The next scene is a flattened Kevin Bacon — about as a thick as pancake — trampled into the sidewalk after the crowd ran over him.

Now if you haven’t seen the movie “Animal House” and don’t remember that scene, you really need to quit reading this column and go watch it right now. Trust me on this; you won’t do anything more important today — I’ll wait right here.

If movies can have intermissions, why can’t columns?

OK, how was it? Laughed your rear end off, didn’t you? John Belushi alone was worth the price of admission, right?

So what made me think of that Kevin Bacon scene from one of my favorite movies?

Star columnist Vahe Gregorian sending out a tweet asking people to “holster the panic” over Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Didn’t happen; if the tweets about Thursday’s loss were any indication of how people were feeling, Vahe Gregorian got trampled like Kevin Bacon.

So is it time to panic?

After the game Ned Yost said he was not concerned about Holland because his stuff was good, his command just wasn’t there. Ned said Davis and Holland pitch better with regular work and they haven’t been getting it.

If the radar gun means anything to you — and it probably means more than it should — Holland’s velocity was there. He didn’t throw a fastball under 95 MPH and threw a couple at 97. Drew Butera said his slider was good; Holland just couldn’t control it. And in Holland’s last appearance — on Aug. 8 — he struck out the side on 13 pitches and preserved a one-run lead.

If you read this column on a regular basis, you know I’m not a big fan of trying to predict the future; the past has shown me I can’t do it. I don’t know how Greg Holland will pitch the next time out, but the recent past suggests it’s a little early to trample Kevin Bacon.

The Royals have an unusual problem

Even after Thursday’s loss the Royals still have an eleven game lead in the American League Central and they’ve been trying to rest players and ease up on the bullpen. An 11-game lead on Aug. 14 is unusual and the team will have to decide how much work people need to stay sharp and how much rest people need to be ready for October.

Stay tuned.

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

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