During Saturday’s 4-3 win against the White Sox I got an email from a buddy—he wanted to know if Bruce Chen was a witch. I’m almost positive the answer is no, but I understand the question. How does a guy throw six and a third innings, strike out seven, walk nobody and give up exactly zero earned runs when he’s throwing a fastball that topped out at 86 miles an hour?
I’ve got a theory: the dude knows how to pitch.
People get caught up in velocity, but I’ve seen plenty of 100-MPH fastballs leave the yard. It’s not just speed that matters; it’sseparation in speed. Chen may have topped out at 86 MPH on Saturday, but he bottomed out
at 66. I’ve done the math and I’m almost sure that’s a difference of 20 miles an hour. If you slow a hitter’s bat down, you can then blow an 86-MPH heater by him.
And as we saw with Jason Vargas, for the most part Chen stayed out of fastball counts. He threw 101 pitches and only 14 were thrown in those counts where hitters have the advantage. And when Chen was in a fastball count the hitters couldn’t really expect a fastball; just when hitters thought they were getting a heater, Chen gave them cutters and changeups.
Chen may not be a witch, but he sure put a spell on the White Sox hitters.
Royals win, 4-3.
A turning point
White Sox starting pitcher John Danks was matching Chen zero for zero—until the fourth inning. Omar Infante lead off with a single and then Eric Hosmer came to the plate. The Royals first baseman saw nine pitches and then singled on the 10th. A long at-bat like Hosmer’s is like throwing a 100 yard dash into the middle of a marathon; it eats up a lot of energy.
After Hosmer’s at-bat, Danks—who had been cruising—gave up another single to Billy Butler, a single to Alex Gordon, a walk to Salvador Perez and yet another walk to Mike Moustakas. Danks went from being in control to scuffling. 38-pitch innings will do that to you.
And those long at-bats can affect a pitcher in the next inning as well. Danks gave up a double, a walk and a run in the fifth inning. He then threw a 1-2-3 sixth and seventh inning, but by then the Royals had three of the four runs they’d need—thanks to Hosmer’s 10-pitch at-bat.
*Sometimes Wade Davis gets so much movement on the ball he doesn’t know where it’s going. That appeared to be the case in the eighth inning. Davis gave up a 1-2 single, hit a batter, walked another and then gave up one more single. A Paul Konerko sac fly tied the game. Afterwards, manager Ned Yost pointed out that Wade had pitched four of the last six days. Ned thought Wade was "flying open" and that led to control problems. Yost also pointed out that these guys were not going to be perfect every time out and we shouldn’t expect that.
*The Royals grabbed the lead back when Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez doubled. A one-run lead in the top of the ninth got closer Greg Holland in the game. Holland walked the leadoff hitter—pinch hitter Adam Dunn—on five pitches and then went 3-1 on the next hitter, Adam Eaton. Holland was missing up and in on his arm side, so I asked him if that was another case of "flying open." Greg said he just felt like he was not getting on "top of the ball."
*Baseball players use a lot of different terminology to say the same thing; flying open and not getting on top of the ball are basically the same problem. The pitcher’s front side is leaving to early and that makes the back side late. The correct release point will be missed and the ball will by high and inside on the pitcher’s arm side.
*With the White Sox up to bat, two outs and the count 3-2, third baseman Mike Moustakas could be seen giving a sign to the other infielders. Moose made a circular motion with his throwing hand to remind everybody on the infield that the base runners would be going. That reminds the other infielders to hold their ground—it’s not a stolen base attempt. It also reminds them that they may have to throw the ball to first base; with the runners going there may not be a force out opportunity at second or third.
*If you saw the game you know, but if you didn’t: Nori Aoki saved the Royals with a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in the top of the eighth. If Aoki doesn’t make that grab, the Royals probably give up two more runs and lose 5-4. Aoki dropped a pop fly on Friday and then saved the game on Saturday. No wonder these guys take it a day at a time.
*A reader asked this question and it turns out there is no official report on an umpire’s strike zone. Certain umps have a reputation for a tight zone, others are thought to be more willing to call a strike. Either way, nobody knows what the zone will be for sure until that particular day. Catcher Brett Hayes said the hitters will want to know how the strike zone is when comes back to the dugout; is the umpire calling the low strike? Is he giving the outside corner? Tim Collins said the same thing about the relievers; when Greg Holland comes down to the pen (closers tend to stay in the dugout until the later innings) the other relievers want to know what he’s seen. Remember; they’re sitting about 380 feet away and don’t get a great view of the strike zone.
Sunday morning—tomorrow—I’ll be on the radio with KCTV5’s Brad Fanning. We’ll be on 610’s "The Practice Squad" starting at 10 AM and I’ll go until 12 noon or they throw me off the air; whichever comes first. Brad asked me to say something good about him on my website, so here it is: Brad Fanning is a lot less irritating on radio than he is person.
I hope you’ll be listening in on Sunday morning.