Judging the Royals

Royals' Danny Duffy dominates

A couple spring trainings ago Danny Duffy was sitting in the Royals clubhouse holding the biggest can of energy drink I’d ever seen. Pitching coach Dave Eiland walked by, pointed at the can and told Duffy that might be part of the problem—Danny started laughing. Danny Duffy is known for being over-amped on the mound. He’s got great stuff; but can he control it?

Wednesday night he controlled it.

After his last big-league start Danny called himself a "dumpster fire" and said he was overthrowing and having a hard time controlling his curveball—he couldn’t find the right release point. Wednesday night against the Twins Duffy threw 103 pitches and 73 of them were strikes. He was controlling his fastball and changeup and when he threw a curve, got it in the zone about half the time; enough to make it a credible threat and force hitters to take it into consideration. Duffy also threw a few sliders and/or cutters (MLB.com couldn’t seem to decide which) and much of the time those were also strikes.

When a pitcher gets ahead in the count—and that’s where Duffy was most of the night—he has options; he can throw all his pitches and hitters have to try to hit them. Get ahead in the count and you can pitch out of the zone and hitters will chase.

Wednesday night Danny Duffy threw six and two-thirds innings, walked none and didn’t give up a run—earned or otherwise. Danny Duffy was under control and it showed.

Royals 8, Twins 1.

Game notes

• According to MLB.com, Salvador Perez hit both his homers off sliders. I wouldn’t take their pitch identification to the bank—one pitch was 80 miles an hour, the other 88—but the point remains the same: when a pitcher hangs off-speed (and 88 barely qualifies) he speeds the hitter’s bat up. That means the hitter is going to make contact out in front of the plate and that means the hitter will put the ball in play in the short part of the park—one of the corners.

Some pitchers specialize in using the large part of a ballpark: let the hitter whack it as hard as he wants, but make sure the ball is in the air and in centerfield. If you’re in a big park and your centerfielder can go get it, that’ll work.

• I believe it was Jim Palmer who said more balls had been hit farther on sliders than any other pitch. Here’s his reasoning: a hung curveball is at least a change of speed, a bad slider is just a batting practice fastball—not much movement and slowed down enough to be very hittable.

Luke Hochevar agrees with the bad-slider-being-very-hittable theory, but threw in some information of his own: hitter’s want to create lift on the ball by giving it

rising backspin.

From the hitter’s point of view the ball should be rotating from 12 to six o’clock—like a golf ball hit off a tee. Overhand curveballs already have that spin—the pitcher pulls his fingers down the front side of the ball to create it—so the hitter already has a ball with the right rotation on it. Hit a hung curve and it will fly.

• In the fourth inning Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe made a throwing error on a Billy Butler grounder. Salvador Perez followed with a two-run home run and the error hurt the Twins on the scoreboard. When Plouffe’s throw to first base hit the ground, Billy Butler was still three strides away from first base.

Infielders have to know who’s running and play accordingly; a guy rushing a throw with Jarrod Dyson coming down the line is acceptable and everyone knows why the infielder rushed. Rushing a throw with Billy Butler running makes less sense.

• In the first inning with Justin Morneau on first base, Alex Gordon made a diving catch of a sinking line drive. There were two outs so Morneau was running on contact. The ball was between Gordon and the foul line—if Alex doesn’t catch that ball, it goes down into the left field corner and maybe Morneau scores from first. That would have also put Josh Willingham—the guy who lined out to Gordon—in scoring position. Danny gave up a lead-off single to start the second inning, so play out the "what if?" game and Danny’s down by two before the first inning is over. If that happened, there’s no telling what effect it would have on the already over-amped Danny Duffy—Gordon’s catch was a big play early in the game.

• Once you get to know players and coaches they’ll express opinions off the record, not all of them flattering—but you never hear a bad word about Alex Gordon. Young guys look up to him as a role model; old-school guys think Gordon goes about his business in the right way. They think young guys


look up to him. I’ve heard of coaches telling young players to watch Alex and do whatever he does; that’s a good way to stick in the big leagues.

• Brian Dozier is in his second season of big league baseball. Here’s why that matters: Dozier had four at-bats on Wednesday night and in each one of them a Royals pitcher would get ahead in the count and then go oof-speed. Dozier put three balls in play off Danny Duffy—all were changeups. Dozier put one ball in play off Luke Hochevar—it was a curve. Dozier hit a fly ball to the outfield every time he came to the plate.

So the Royals clearly had a way they wanted to pitch Dozier and got away with doing it every time he came to the plate. With some young guys you can keep getting them out the same way, with some veterans you better switch things up—a guy who’s been around a while will sit soft and whack one of those off-speed pitches. This is part of what they mean when they say baseball is a game of adjustments; if pitchers are getting you out with the same pitch pattern over and over, you better adjust.

• Relief pitcher Casey Fien gave up three runs, reliever Anthony Swarzak gave up two. People will talk in mystic tones about an offense coming alive when it may be as simple as the other team changing pitchers; this guy was shutting you down,


guy got whacked. Whenever there’s a pitching change, there’s a chance for the game to change.

• Aaron Crow pitched the ninth and gave up a home run and a walk. Neither one was good: the home run came on an 0-2 pitch to Justin Morneau—why give him something that hittable 0-2?—and the walk came with a seven-run lead.

Waking someone up

The Minnesota Twins are 57-74; they’re not going anywhere in the post-season except home. When players know their team has no chance, they often start to play out the string—you still want to put up your numbers, but you’re just going through the motions.

Unless someone wakes you up.

In the sixth inning Salvador Perez came to the plate and Andrew Albers threw a pitch up and in—kind of. The pitch was more up than in, but Perez still spun out of the way, hit the deck and came up talking to Albers. Perez obviously thought the pitch was intentional; Sal had already doubled and homered, there were two outs in the inning and it was the first pitch of the at-bat. That’s a great time to drill a hitter if that’s what you want to do.

Perez got up and gestured to his side and then his head. The message was this: if you want to hit me, hit me in the side—not in the head. Later, Albers said he wasn’t trying to do either one—he was just pitching inside and that one got away. Of course, that’s what pitchers always say, even when they


trying to hit a batter—but if a pitcher’s going to drill a guy, there’s an accepted way to do it. Throw a fastball below the shoulders—stay away from the head—and behind the hitter’s back. That way the hitter will back up into the pitch and get plunked in the ribs. It hurts, but no one is going on the DL.

That what Perez was referring to—if you want to hit me do it the right way.

But there’s not a lot of evidence Albers wanted to hit him. An inning later, Albers came up and in on Alex Gordon and Gordon didn’t make a big deal of it. And there are old-school players that will tell you that if a hitter even


a pitcher is throwing at his head, he better go to the mound and deliver the message in person; you come up around my head and I’ll come out here and kick your butt. The old-school guys think all the bat pointing and talking just covers the fact that the hitter really doesn’t want to go to the mound.

The way Salvador Perez handled the situation may have woken the Twins up; they were going through the motions and now they have a reason to get refocused. It could also be argued that Albers woke Perez up—after getting up off the ground, Sal hit a line drive back through box and then homered in his next at-bat. Ballplayers reach this point in the year and they’re running out of energy—this kind of thing can kick-start an entire team. This issue may be over or we may see something else happen in today’s game.

When you see something like this happen, pay attention to what happens next; it’s usually pretty interesting—and that can wake fans up.