When a pitcher gets ahead in the count he can throw whatever he likes. He doesn’t have to throw a strike, so he can throw all his pitches—even pitches that will wind up out of the zone. Hitters know this and are forced to cover everything the pitcher has in his arsenal; from mid-nineties fastballs to curves that are twenty miles an hour slower.
When a pitcher falls behind in the count he’s forced to throw whatever pitches he can throw for strikes—and for many pitchers that means fastballs. Hitters know this, look for fastballs and tee off when they get one.
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After the game I asked catcher George Kottaras if Mendoza had trouble with his slider—in his last 12 pitches Luis threw one slider and 11 fastballs—and George said the main problem was the inability to get to the slider—they’re called secondary pitches for a reason. Luis was falling behind, trying to get back in the count by throwing fastballs and getting whacked around while he did it. Mendoza couldn’t get ahead which would have allowed him to throw more sliders, mix things up and keep hitters off his fastball.
And one of the most damaging at-bats might have been a strikeout: Mendoza struck out Chris Young for the second out of the second inning—but it took 10 pitches to do it. Big league pitchers and catchers will tell you to watch what happens after a long at-bat; even if the pitcher gets the guy at the plate, the pitcher has expended so much energy doing it, he might leave a pitch up in the zone to the next guy. In this case the next guy was Eric Sogard, and he doubled on the second pitch Mendoza threw him. In fact, after Mendoza struck out Young, he never got another out—Sogard doubled, Coco Crisp singled, Jed Lowrie also singled and Mendoza was done for the day.
Luis Mendoza fell behind in the count and the Royals fell behind on the scoreboard: Athletics 10, Royals 4.
• When one team jumps out to a big lead things can seem to go from bad to worse in a hurry. That’s because the manager that’s losing can’t afford to burn quality innings from his best relievers unless he has a chance of winning the game. Teams then go to their long relievers—in this case Bruce Chen and Will Smith—and those guys are expected to chew up innings and save the other relief pitchers. If they can provide scoreless innings so much the better, but the main thing is providing innings.
The same thing can apply to the team that has the big lead. Once their starter, A.J. Griffin, threw five innings and qualified for the win, he was done and Oakland manager Bob Melvin went to left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins. The A’s lefty faced three batters, didn’t get an out and before the Royals could crawl back in the game, Melvin brought in ex-Royal Jesse Chavez. So most of this game was long reliever against long reliever, which is one of the reasons both teams kept scoring—neither manager was going to waste a dominant reliever in a blowout.
• Mendoza had a quick first inning: he walked Crisp on five pitches, then got a lineout double-play on the sixth pitch. Josh Donaldson did nothing to make Mendoza work at that point, grounding out on the first pitch he saw. Lots of veteran ballplayers would say you have to take at least one strike in that situation.
• Elliot Johnson was playing shortstop and in the second inning with right-handed Yoenis Cespedes at the plate, Johnson was positioned over toward third base. That’s because Mendoza’s sinker was supposed to be moving down and in on righties which would force them to pull the ball on the ground. Luis left a slider out over the plate and the ball was hit to Elliot’s left—between where he was standing and second base. That’s a case of a pitcher missing a spot more than a defender being positioned in the wrong place.
• Coco Crisp hit a single with a runner in scoring position and Jarrod Dyson made an off-line throw home. Dyson’s throw allowed Crisp to move up to second base and that cost the Royals another run when he scored on Jed Lowrie’s single. If an outfielder’s throw is low and accurate, the cut-off man—in this case Eric Hosmer—can at least
cutting off the ball and freeze the trail runner. Dyson’s throw was so off-line no fake was possible.
• Dyson did provide some excitement when he fouled a pitch back and it flew into the press box. Foul balls into the press box give us a chance to show our baseball skills, but they never seem to show up when we need them. You gotta keep an eye out during a game—the dining area is right behind the press area and I’ve seen a foul ball knock a soft drink off a table while a guy ate his lunch.
• Alex Gordon has to be the king of broken bat hits and he had another one in this game. It seems to be a combination of maple bats, thin handles, pitchers trying to get inside on Alex and Gordon’s physical strength that allows him to muscle a jam shot over the infield. Outfielders play deep on him because of his power and that allows those flares to drop in front of them—when a pitcher jams Gordon, the outfielders are out of position.
• Miguel Tejada crushed a ball foul to the pull side of the field and when a guy gets his bat head out in front that quickly, pitchers will often go off-speed. Miggy struck out on curveball on the very next pitch.
• With the Royals down by six with one out in the ninth, Eric Hosmer hustled down to second and broke up a double play. It did nothing but prolong the game by one batter, but if we’re going to notice when a guy doesn’t run a ball out, we should also notice when guy keeps playing the game the right way—despite the odds.
A New York state of mind
I’m headed to New York with the Royals. I’ll fly out at the crack of dawn, arrive in New York, find my hotel, negotiate the subway system and try to be at Yankee Stadium by game time. There shouldn’t be a problem, but I’ve been known to screw up a trip to the grocery store, so I’m giving everyone a heads-up.
I haven’t figured out if I’ll stay at Yankee Stadium and write after games or get on the subway and do my writing back at the hotel—guess I need to see how long the subway ride takes. Anyway, if there’s any delay in posting stuff, be patient—it’ll get posted on-line eventually.