Judging the Royals

Johnny Cueto, Greg Holland, Ned Yost and delayed steals

The Royals' Johnny Cueto pitches against the Tigers during Friday’s baseball game in Detroit.
The Royals' Johnny Cueto pitches against the Tigers during Friday’s baseball game in Detroit. AP

When a game goes 12 innings with a lot of twists and turns there’s a whole bunch of stuff to write about, so relax; it’s Saturday morning and you can use the length of this column as an excuse for failing to get out there and mow the lawn or do the laundry. (And that’s not sexist; I was imagining a wife mowing the lawn and a husband doing the laundry — so there.)

Johnny Cueto gets back to pitching like Johnny Cueto

I’m going to assume anyone reading this column knows about Johnny Cueto, his recent struggles with pitching mechanics and the need for him to fix that mechanical flaw, get back on track and provide the Royals with a quality starter going into the playoffs.

Friday night Johnny scuffled a bit in the first couple innings, then settled down and pitched like the old Johnny Cueto; seven innings, two runs — and it would have been seven innings one run if Ned Yost had not sent Johnny out to pitch the eighth inning.

You could see Johnny reminding himself to keep his front shoulder closed and apparently he asked Salvador Perez to set a lower target with his catching mitt and both adjustments seemed to work.

If Johnny Cueto is back to pitching like Johnny Cueto, that’s — as Donald Trump would say — huuuuuge.

But if you stayed up and watched the game, you know Greg Holland blew the save in the 12th inning and Royals fans lit up Twitter with demands that Holland be replaced as the Royals closer.

Before we start using our combined baseball expertise to rearrange the Royals bullpen, let me remind everyone of what people were saying about Johnny Cueto less than a week ago. I wrote that the Royals needed to fix Cueto, not give up on him and after I posted that column these are some of the comments that were left on this website:

"Dump him. He's a bust."

"Cueto was brought in to take the Royals over the hump and into the playoffs and beyond. So far he has taken the Royal to the heap, trash heap that is."

"Start by benching Cueto."

"In 60 days, he won't even be a Royal. Management's job isn't to "fix" a rental. It's to win. You don't rent a broken down car and sacrifice time and money to fix it."

"Brought in to do a job and has failed miserably. Ride the pine Johnny. And good luck getting a contract next year."

"There is know fixing this useless, lazy free agent. Cut him and sue his button off."

Despite the confidence that there was "know" fixing Cueto, Cueto seemed to get fixed — at least for one night. I’ve got no idea how Johnny will pitch next time out, but Friday night he showed that a mechanical adjustment could make all the difference in the world. Here’s the truth: the average baseball fan — and average baseball reporter — doesn’t know enough to start dumping ballplayers, rearranging lineups or bullpen roles.

But that probably isn’t going to stop us from trying.

So what about Greg Holland?

Friday night Greg Holland’s fastball was clocked at a low of 88 mph and a high of 95. Jeff Montgomery — a guy who knows a thing or two about closing — said that with the stuff Holland has now, Greg needs to be nearly perfect with his command. And after the game that’s what Holland talked about; overall lack of command.

In his postgame press conference, Ned Yost clearly did not want to spend a lot of time talking about Greg and what might happen in the future. The move most fans want to see is Wade Davis closing, but if you do that, when does Greg Holland pitch?

If you don’t throw Holly in the ninth, do you throw him in the eighth? The seventh? Never? Greg Holland is still a guy with a great slider and an even better idea of how to pitch.

I’m not smart enough to know what the Royals should do with Greg Holland, but I am smart enough to not offer opinions.

A look at a couple of Ned Yost’s game decisions

Greg Holland’s blown save will get much of the attention this morning, but during Friday night’s game Ned Yost made — or failed to make — a couple moves that could be questioned.

Ned sent Johnny Cueto out to pitch the eighth inning in a 1-1 tie. Johnny gave up a leadoff double to Anthony Gose and that’s when Ned pulled him. When asked about it later Ned said: "That’s what good starters do. They get you into the eighth inning. If they’re under 100 pitches, they go out and try and get you through the eighth inning."

Here are some arguments on the other side: Johnny Cueto has been struggling and Friday night he finally put together a very good start. Getting him out of the game on a high note would be beneficial to Johnny’s mental health. Sending Cueto back out for the eighth inning put him in a position to lose the game and that’s something Ned Yost usually avoids; if a starter gives Ned a good effort, Ned usually does what he can to make sure that starter does not end up with an "L" beside his name.

On the plus side: Cueto had gotten Gose out three times in a row, on the minus side it allowed Gose a fourth look at Cueto.

It also meant Wade Davis did not have a clean inning to work with; Wade came in with a runner in scoring position and no margin for error. Wade Davis — everyone’s pick for the next closer — had a rough night (I guess it can happen to anybody) and the Tigers took the lead.

The Royals retied the game when Detroit reliever Alex Wilson threw Salvador Perez an 0-1 slider for a strike. I’ve watched Salvador Perez hit for a long time now and once you have Salvy 0-1, you can throw that slider into one of the dugouts and he might take a hack. Bad pitch and a good swing; Sal homered to tie things up.

The other Ned Yost non-move that could be questioned was leaving right fielder Alex Rios in the game. Rios does not cover a lot of territory and he’s very conservative about how he plays the territory he does cover. When Ian Kinsler hit a soft line drive into right field in the ninth inning, Alex chose to pull up and play it for a single. If Jarrod Dyson was used for defensive purposes, maybe that Kinsler liner gets caught.

Why Jarrod Dyson tried a delayed steal

With two outs in the ninth inning and the game tied, Alex Rios singled and Jarrod Dyson came out to pinch run. Jarrod tried a delayed steal that was unsuccessful and Twitter immediately blew up with Dyson critics: why did Jarrod try a delayed steal?

Well, never let the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about stop you from being critical.

It’s very likely that the idea for a delayed steal came from everyone’s favorite base coach; Rusty Kuntz. A while back Rusty and I went over the necessary conditions for a delayed steal and No. 1 on the list was a pitcher that was too quick to home plate to attempt a straight steal. Detroit reliever Alex Wilson was using a slide step and getting the ball to catcher James McCann quickly. Wilson was also quick to first base and came close to picking off Dyson a couple times, so Jarrod could not get a huge lead.

The second thing on the list of delayed steal requirements is a catcher who likes to stick it. That’s when a catcher receives the pitch, locks the mitt in place and stares down at the mitt; it’s a pitch-framing technique designed to make a pitch look more like a strike.

The third thing Rusty looks for is a middle infielder who keeps his head down after the pitch is delivered.

Here’s why all that matters:

As the pitcher delivers the ball to home plate everyone takes a quick glance at the baserunner. If the runner is attempting a straight steal someone will yell to let the catcher know and the middle infielder responsible for the bag will begin to move in that direction.

If the base runner is doing a delayed steal he takes a couple crow hops toward second base—it’s called a secondary lead—just like he would if he wasn’t planning on going anywhere. Everybody sees that the runner isn’t going, then turns their attention back to home plate; and that’s when the runner breaks.

If the catcher is keeping his head down to stick a pitch and the middle infielder does not check the runner again after the pitch, the defense will be late getting the ball down to second base and covering the bag.

In this case it didn’t work like it was drawn up, but if Dyson could have been successful using a straight steal, that’s what he would have tried.

In the 12th inning Terrance Gore did steal a base successfully and that led some Internet experts to say Gore is much faster than Dyson (Gore may be faster, but it ain’t by much.) Gore could use the straight steal because the pitcher — Drew VerHagen — was not using a slide step.

Alrighty then; that’s it for today.

I hope tonight goes better for the Royals and you come up with another good excuse for not mowing the lawn or doing the laundry.

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