Anytime your starting pitcher throws 53 pitches in the first inning, it’s probably not a good sign—and it sure wasn’t a good sign in this game; after one inning the Twins were up 5-0 and never looked back. Wade Davis walked three and all three walks scored—and that was just in the first inning. He walked two more in the second inning before being replaced by reliever Will Smith.
So what went wrong?
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Several things: Davis has said there are times he gets too much movement on his pitches and just doesn’t know where they’re going—I wasn’t there to ask, but that appeared to be the case Saturday afternoon. The home plate umpire—Ron Kulpa—also seemed to have a tight zone; in the first inning, several pitches to Brian Dozier appeared close enough to be called strikes if the umpire was so inclined. So a bad combination: questionable control and a tight strike zone.
After walking Dozier and Joe Mauer—and Mauer had hit .500 off Davis coming into this game—Justin Morneau doubled, driving in both walks. (Coming into this game, lefties had hit .330 off Davis.) Then, with the score 2-0, one down and Trevor Plouffe at the plate, Davis threw seven straight cutters.
There’s a whole lot I don’t understand about big-league pitching and you can put this on the list: I’ve been told by big league hitters that if they see 100 miles an hour three times in a row, they’ll hit it the third time. Changing speeds is one of the basics of pitching, but there are times Salvador Perez will call the same pitch over and over—either that or pitchers are shaking Perez off and
to throw the same pitch over and over—but most pitchers I’ve talked to don’t want to think, they want to execute: drop a sign and they’ll throw it.
On June 25th Tim Collins gave up a game winner when he threw three curveballs in a row to the Braves Jason Heyward and Heyward hit a home run. On June 23rd Kelvin Herrera almost gave up a game winner to the White Sox’ Gordon Beckham when he threw seven fastballs in a row and Beckham doubled in two runs. In this game those seven cutters in a row resulted in a Trevor Plouffe home run and a 4-0 Twins lead.
In boxing, if someone gets knocked out in the first round, the fight’s over. In baseball, you have to keep playing. It didn’t make much difference, the Royals lost to the Twins, 6-2.
*More stuff I don’t understand: Wade Davis had just thrown 53 pitches. You could read a Stephen King novel in the time it took Davis to get through the first inning. If you read the piece about Wade’s last outing ("A pitch-by-pitch conversation with Wade Davis") you know what a big deal exertion and rest are for a starting pitcher. Davis had exerted himself and now he needed rest.
But the Royals came out in the top of the second and took exactly one called strike to start an at-bat. Salvador Perez took a strike to lead off the inning and then went to hacking and struck out on three pitches. Mike Moustakas never took a strike, but made up for it—slightly—by doubling. Lorenzo Cain swing at the first two pitches and finally took a called strike when he probably should have been swinging the bat. Miguel Tejada never took a strike and lined out on the third pitch he saw. Because of the Royals impatience, Wade Davis was back on the mound after Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson had thrown only 13 pitches. Wade didn’t get much rest and never got out of the second inning.
*Will Smith replaced Davis and threw five innings. Luke Hochevar backed him up with two more. It may not be impressive when your team is getting beat 6-2, but long relievers saving the rest of the bullpen might make a win possible the next day.
*Alex Gordon had yet another assist in the third inning. Jamey Carroll challenged his arm by trying to stretch a single into a double and lost.
*Salvador Perez chased a couple pitches in off the plate. When you see a guy do that, he’s often thinking of hitting a bomb, looking for something in and chases something too far in.
*Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game. It’s going to be hard for Moose to move his numbers after so many at-bats, but he has been hitting the ball much better.
*The Royals last chance may have come in the eighth inning: Eric Hosmer led off with a walk and right-handed reliever Casey Fien replaced left-handed reliever Brian Duensing. Fien threw Billy Butler four sliders and a curve and Butler flew out to right field on the curve. Salvador Perez got three fastballs and singled on the third. Mike Moustakas also got a couple heaters, singled, and the bases were loaded.
All of a sudden the tying run was at the plate and Lorenzo Cain had a chance to put the Royals back into it.
Cain got nothing but sliders until the fifth pitch and that was fastball up out of the zone—Lorenzo then struck out on a slider down and away. Miguel Tejada also saw nothing but sliders—and one fastball out of the zone—and also struck out on a slider down and away. As we’ve seen before, when the game is on the line, the Royals aren’t seeing too many hittable fastballs. The two strikeouts ended the inning and the Royals never had another runner on base.
*The Twins got the ball to their closer, Glen Perkins. He came into the game with an ERA of 2.12 and left with an ERA of 2.05. If you don’t take advantage of early opportunities, you might not get any late ones.
Pitch selection and the average pitcher
(This concept comes directly from college baseball coach Ron Polk’s book, but I found it helpful in understanding pitch selection and the mistakes hitters make.)
Let’s say you’re facing a pitcher who’s considered average. Generally speaking, if this hypothetical pitcher throws five pitches, one will be great, one will be bad and three will be average—after all, that’s why he’s considered an average pitcher.
If this pitcher starts an at-bat and manages to throw a great pitch, the hitter should take it. Odds are, the hitter is now going to see one bad pitch and three average ones if he stays at the plate for five pitches. In other words, it’s a mistake to swing at a pitcher’s pitch early in the count when the pitcher isn’t all that great. Some very good hitters will tell you they didn’t make a living hitting good pitches—they made a living hitting mistakes. Being impatient and not hanging around long enough to see a mistake is a bad approach.
But a hitter’s approach might change if he was facing a very good pitcher—think top of the line guys, closers or starters like Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish or Felix Hernandez—because a very good pitcher might throw three excellent pitches, one bad pitch and one average pitch during a five-pitch at-bat. In that case a hitter is more inclined to tee off on the first hittable pitch he sees; don’t wait around for the pitcher to make another mistake, this guy probably won’t make two mistakes in one at-bat.
So it’s not just the pitch; who threw it also matters. A fastball on the black away might be the best pitch a hitter is likely to see from an ace, but a bad pitch to go after if the guy on the mound is a mutt.
So when you see a Royals hitter walk to the plate, ask yourself how good the pitcher is. If he’s terrific, the hitter may have no choice but to swing at something marginal early in the count. If it’s a pitcher that’s struggling, the hitter can be more selective. But no matter who is on the mound, pitchers still make mistakes: if you get one—hit it.