Judging the Royals

The Royals pitch to the best hitter on the planet and pay the price

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run single against the Royals during the third inning of Saturday's baseball game in Detroit.
Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run single against the Royals during the third inning of Saturday's baseball game in Detroit. AP

If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time you know I don’t have much patience for people who wait until a play is over, then second-guess the decision making of the players and coaches involved.

But first-guessing is an entirely different thing.

If you’ve been watching big league baseball for any length of time you know Miguel Cabrera is considered the best hitter on the planet. He is hitting .339 overall, but has scuffled a bit lately — hitting .211 over the last 14 days. But he’s still the best hitter on the planet, and the best hitter on the planet can break out of a slump at any point. For instance:

Saturday night the Kansas City Royals carried a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the third inning against the Detroit Tigers. With two outs and runners at second and third — do the math and you realize first base was open — the Royals chose to pitch to Cabrera. With the count 0-1 Royals starter Edinson Volquez threw Cabrera a curveball and Miggy stayed back on the off-speed pitch (probably knowing he wasn’t going to get challenged with a fastball) and served it into right field; both runners scored.

After the game here’s what Edinson Volquez had to say about Cabrera: "He’s unbelievable. There’s nothing you can do."

Sure there is — walk him.

The on-deck hitter was J.D. Martinez. J.D.’s no day at the beach either; he has 37 home runs and 96 RBIs. But look up the matchup numbers this morning and you see Cabrera is five for eight off Volquez (.625) and Martinez is one for 12 (.083). With first base open and a hitter at the plate who seems to own the pitcher on the mound and a pitcher on the mound who seems to own the hitter on deck, the Royals chose to pitch to Miguel Cabrera and paid the price.

Don’t let certain hitters beat you

Smart pitchers — and managers — will often look at a lineup, pick a hitter and say: "That guy will not beat us." Pitch to him when he can’t hurt you, but work around him or intentionally walk him when he can.

Wade Davis once worked around Cabrera with the bases loaded. If I recall correctly — and I often don’t — the Royals had a three-run lead late in the game and Miggy came to the plate with two down and the bases loaded. Wade walked him and forced in a run; the Royals still had a two-run lead. After the game I asked Wade if he’d walked Cabrera on purpose and Wade said: "One run is better than four."

There will be a lot of attention paid to Ian Kinsler’s extra-inning, walk-off homer, but don’t miss how the Royals got to those extra-innings; they let the best hitter on the planet beat them.

Salvador Perez sets a lower target, but gets exposed while doing it

Apparently, Johnny Cueto asked Salvador Perez to give him a lower target with his mitt and that seemed to pay off in Johnny’s last start. Saturday night Sal was once again setting a lower target; but Sal’s a big dude and he’s sometimes going to one knee to get his mitt as low as possible.

Going to one knee exposes a catcher’s … umm … let’s pretend the word I’m thinking of is "crotch", but you’re free to think of a more vulgar term. If Sal takes a cup shot while down on one knee, just give me credit for calling it in advance.

Tom Verducci calls it

Like a lot of baseball fans I enjoy listening to Tom Verducci mainly cuz the guy does his homework and seems to know something about the game. With Eric Hosmer on third base and Al Alburquerque on the mound, Verducci mentioned Al’s tendency to throw a slider in the dirt once he got two strikes on a hitter. Al (which is so much easier to spell than "Alburquerque") did just that; the slider in the dirt got away from the catcher and Eric Hosmer scored on the wild pitch.

For a color commentator calling a play like that before it happens is like hitting a walk-off homer; you really get to dig yourself for a minute or two. (So I guess I’m kinda hoping Salvador Perez takes a cup shot while down on one knee — sorry, Sal.)

A defense of the Royals pitching coach

Here’s an email I got the other day:

If I was the Royal's pitching coach, I would be concerned about keeping my job! The Royals should go out and get a top notch pitching coach........now! The ERA of this pitching squad is pathetic!! What is Hiland doing to assist our struggling pitchers anyway?

Since I’ve already pointed out that the Royals should have worked around Cabrera and expressed a desire to see their All-Star catcher get hit in the family jewels just so I can walk around and say "I told you so," I will now try to be a nice guy and defend Royals pitching coach Dave Hiland — or as the rest of the world knows him, Dave Eiland.

Eiland is considered a top-notch pitching coach. The Royals "pathetic" ERA was third-best in the American League at the time I received this email, still in the top four pitching staffs this morning. I get to spend some time talking to Dave so I can give you some examples of what he’s doing to assist the Royals pitchers:

  • With Luke Hochevar Eiland wanted him to throw fewer types of pitches because Luke had too many pitches that were similar in velocity. Luke went to the pen, reduced his pitch arsenal and has achieved better results.
  • In Jeremy Guthrie’s case, Dave added a small inward turn to Jeremy’s delivery; that allowed Guthrie more time to get the ball to the proper release point and pitch downhill.
  • Edinson Volquez was taking too big a step back to start his delivery out of the full windup. Dave shortened that step back and that allowed Edinson to keep his motion going north-south — toward home plate.
  • Kris Medlen’s fix was staying tall; Dave wanted Kris to stay back a bit more instead of driving too soon toward the dish. Staying tall added depth to Medlen’s off-speed stuff and got his fastball on a downhill angle.
  • Johnny Cueto’s front shoulder was flying open and Johnny was cutting off his pitches and spinning off the ball. Eiland spotted the problem, Johnny was working on it and in his last start Cueto’s work and Eiland’s advice seemed to pay off.

Now if you’re thinking some of these guys still have problems, you’re right — it’s not like you tell a guy what’s wrong and he immediately fixes it and it’s fixed forever. Dave needs to keep tweaking as the season goes along.

OK, I hope defending Mr. Hiland even things out and Salvador Perez does not use a fungo bat to let me know exactly what a cup shot — without a cup — feels like.

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