Judging the Royals

Lorenzo Cain’s second inning at-bat

If you want to know where this one started to go wrong you could do a lot worse than looking at Lorenzo Cain’s second inning at-bat. The score was Twins 2, Royals 1 and Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a double. When you’re the 8-hole hitter and an important run is on second base with nobody out, your job is to make sure the tying run gets moved over to third.

Lorenzo Cain swung at the first two pitches and neither swing looked like a guy trying to punch the ball to the right side of the infield. Once Cain got to two strikes he didn’t choke up, didn’t cut down on his swing—he was still swinging from the heels. Cain’s final swing was so hard he spun off the ball; no chance of hitting the ball to the right side and moving Moustakas over to third base.

Take a bad situational at-bat and the baseball gods tend to punish you; Alcides Escobar hit a fly ball to left field that would have been plenty deep enough to score Moustakas if only Moustakas had been on third base.

The score should have been tied after two innings. Maybe things would have been different then, maybe not, but you can be sure that a team that wants to have a shot at the playoffs has to execute the fundamentals of the game. The Royals failed to do that and lost this game to the Twins, 10-1—and it may have started to go wrong with Lorenzo Cain’s second inning at bat.

Signaling

Pay attention to a Royals player after he gets a base hit. If he turns to the dugout and makes some kind of personalized sign, he’s

signaling

. The guys who participate make their signal to the dugout and the guys in the dugout make a signal back. It’s supposed to build team spirit and show camaraderie among players—but most veteran players hate it.

Eric Hosmer signaled after his first inning single and Mike Moustakas had a few signs of his own after his second-inning double. But while a player is making signs to his buddies, the coaches have to wait to get their attention to give the signs that matter. Very few players are going so good they can afford to get distracted by good-looking women in the stands, having a conversation with opposing players or—in this case—signaling.

The first inning

The Royals scored one run and that came in the first inning. With one out Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer singled and then—with Billy Butler at the plate—Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson threw a wild pitch. Infante got a good read and moved up to third, Hosmer did not leave first. Not moving up on the wild pitch kept the double play in order and Billy Butler almost hit into another one. If shortstop Pedro Florimon had not bobbled the ball the Twins would have turned two to end the inning and the Royals would have been shut out. Instead—because of Infante’s heads-up base running—the Royals picked up their first and only run of the night.

The Twins scored their second run in the bottom of the first when Jason Kubel hit a fly ball to right field and Nori Aoki couldn’t find the wall. Ideally an outfielder hits the warning track, puts his hand up, finds the wall and then comes away from the wall to make the catch. Aoki hit the warning track and slowed down, apparently unsure of where the wall was. You’ve got to know how many strides it takes to cross the track and have a pretty good idea of when you’ll be arriving at the wall. When a player is unfamiliar with a ballpark, that’s the kind of stuff that gets dealt with during early work or batting practice.

Game notes

*Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki had lime green fingernails, but it wasn’t a fashion statement. If a pitcher has a hard time seeing the signs, some catchers will paint their fingernails. Back in the day they’d just get some of the base line’s chalk on their fingers and if that

didn’t work they’d go to a

touch system.

If the catcher touched a certain spot—say face mask—it would mean throw a certain pitch—say fastball.

*There wasn’t a lot to like about this game, but Eric Hosmer made a very nice defensive play to end the fourth inning. (I wanted to find something

positive to say about this game and there it was.)

*Michael Mariot pitched his first inning of big league baseball and it went very well—he struck out a future Hall of Famer, Joe Mauer—and wound up with an ERA of 0.00. Unfortunately, Mariot was sent back out to pitch his

second

inning of big league baseball and things didn’t go so hot; he walked two, gave up a double and wound up with an ERA of 9.00. Sometimes it’s better to quit when you’re ahead; especially when you’re already losing 7-1.

*Kelvin Herrera threw 29 pitches in the eighth inning. Three of them were curves, one was a changeup. If you’re odds of getting a fastball are 25 to 4, why look for anything else?

One of the theories about Kelvin Herrera is that he’s a whole lot better when he changes speeds. That makes Herrera like just about every other pitcher in the known universe. Watch the scoreboard radar gun; if he’s throwing in the upper nineties or breaks the century mark, that’s his fastball. If you see a pitch in the upper eighties that’s his changeup and if you see a pitch in the upper seventies that his curve. If you see all three he’s changing speeds; if it’s nothing but fastballs don’t be stunned if someone times one up.

Throwback

"Throwback: A Big League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played" is an inside look at our national pastime, co-authored by Jason Kendall and Lee Judge. The book will be in stores on May 13th, but can be pre-ordered right now.

http://us.macmillan.com/throwback/JasonKendall
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