Judging the Royals

The Royals get back to basics: pitching and defense

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Kris Medlen.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Kris Medlen. The Associated Press

Tuesday night Kris Medlen took the mound and reminded Royals fans what their team looks like when it gets good pitching and defense. Despite struggling with his mechanics Medlen threw 6  1/3 innings, gave up five hits and no runs. Kris walked one batter and that was in the first inning; he fell behind Carlos Santana with a runner in scoring position and appeared to work around the Indians cleanup hitter — and if you’re going to walk a guy, that’s the time to do it.

And check out the time of game: two hours and 34 minutes. Medlen was getting the ball and throwing it instead of wandering around behind the pitching mound pondering the meaning of life.

When pitchers work quickly they get better defense. Infielders have to get ready and shuffle forward as each pitch is delivered. Shuffling forward puts them on their toes and gets them moving and you know what they say about a body in motion. (And if you don’t you should have paid more attention in high school).

When you see a ball get past an infielder and you think that infielder should have been able to get to the ball, go back and look at how that infielder got ready; if his pitcher was taking forever to throw a pitch, some infielders will take a pitch off — they shouldn’t, but they do. And if the ball is hit to that infielder’s left or right he’ll be a step slow because he started the play flat-footed.

But Medlen was avoiding that by working quickly.

Off the top of my head, I remember outstanding defensive plays from Alcides Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and two from Mike Moustakas. If I’ve forgotten somebody I’m sure some reader will point it out.

Kansas City Royals fans have been worried about their team lately and lately their team has given them reason to worry, but Tuesday night the Royals beat the Indians 2-0 and showed how quickly things can turn around when they get good pitching and defense.

And it starts with good pitching.

Medlen and the playoffs

Home-field advantage in the playoffs is a big deal; if the Royals have a fly-ball pitcher on the mound in smaller parks like those in New York and Houston, some of those fly balls are likely to be home runs.

Tuesday night Kris Medlen was getting groundball outs, and after the game Ned Yost said Kris was banging strikes and executing pitches down in the zone. If Kris can keep that up, it might make sense to have him start one of those games in a smaller ballpark.

I’m sure there are other factors involved that I haven’t thought of, but at least I thought of that one.

Why Yan Gomes missed that pop up

The Royals’ first run came when catcher Yan Gomes lost sight of a Mike Moustakas pop up behind home plate; the ball dropped, Moose got another pitch, doubled and later scored. Moustakas was convinced that Gomes was going to catch that pop up and started walking toward the Royals dugout — so what happened?

Twilight.

Before it gets totally dark the sky gets kind of bluish, gray and it’s really easy to lose a baseball against that backdrop. Former Royals catcher Jason Kendall told me a story about losing a ball in the twilight, seeing a flash of white out of the corner of his eye and taking off in pursuit.

Unfortunately, he was chasing a seagull.

Speaking of missed pop-ups

If you watched the game, you saw probably saw the totally bald fan try to catch a pop-up, have the ball go right through his hands and hit him in the top of the head. If I hit you in the head with a baseball from 3 feet away, it would really hurt, so I can’t imagine what it feels like to get in the head by big-league pop-up.

Here’s the deal: just because big league players make things look easy, it doesn’t mean that those things actually are easy.

And Tuesday night a fan found that out.

The eighth inning and Wade Davis

Wade Davis put on a pitching clinic when he faced Carlos Santana in the eighth inning. Wade fell behind 2-0 and in a 2-0 count hitters tend to look for a fastball. So Wade threw a get-me-over curve that stayed in the zone. Santana took the pitch because he wasn’t looking for a curve 2-0.

Now with one strike, Santana was going to be more aggressive so Wade threw a chase curve; a breaking ball that started in the zone, then broke down and out of the zone; Santana chased, just like Wade thought he would.

Finally with the count 2-2, Wade threw a 98-mph fastball at the knees and on the black. After two curves, Santana locked up and took the pitch for a called strike three.

At bats like this one are why Wade Davis has an ERA of 0.91.

The ninth inning and Greg Holland

Greg Holland came on for the save and freaked everybody out by throwing fastballs in the upper 80s. There was enough concern that Ned Yost and one of the Royals trainers came out to the mound, Holland said he was fine and he went on to get the save by throwing a bunch of sliders and a 93-mph fastball for strike three and the third out of the ninth.

(BTW: Salvador Perez did not help Holland out when he came up too soon on a slider in the dirt and the ball went through Sal’s legs and to the backstop, putting two runners in scoring position — not the first time Sal has done this.)

But back to Holland.

After the game Ned Yost said it was wear and tear on Holland’s arm and shoulder that accounted for the lower velocity. Ask Greg Holland and he’ll say nobody’s 100 percent of this time of year. Ned also said Holland’s velocity dipped last season, but Greg still had a lot of success in the playoffs.

So I went back and looked:

Greg was still throwing in the mid-nineties in the 2015 postseason. Maybe he was gritting his teeth when he did it, but in the last game of the World Series Holland was throwing 95. Maybe Holland can dig down and get his velocity back up when he needs it and it looked like that’s what he did on the last pitch of Tuesday’s game.

Lots of fans have suggested Wade Davis should be the closer, but as Andy McCullough has pointed out, even if the Royals made that move, Greg Holland would still be pitching innings late in games when the score is close.

Hang loose, things might get interesting down the stretch.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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