In the first inning Nori Aoki hit a fastball down the left-field line and despite the fact that David Lough was playing shallow, Nori made the turn at first base and headed for second. Lough’s throw was off-line, Nori slid in safely and the 25,985 people in attendance didn’t realize that they’d just seen the high point of the Royals offense.
It was pretty much downhill from there.
They say that pitching is like real estate; the three most important things are location, location and location. Well, if it’s important for pitchers to stay out of the middle of the strike zone, it stands to reason it’s important for hitters to hunt pitches in that same location. Here’s a quote from Jason Kendall’s new book "Throwback" (and if you think I’m plugging our book, you’re damn right):
"I'd say 90 percent of all hits at any level of baseball are on pitches in the middle of the plate. Every pitcher makes mistakes; I can't stress that enough. Hitters should look for the ball in the middle of the plate.
That other shit is too hard to hit."
When Jason and I talked about hitting his philosophy was interesting: as a catcher he wanted to get into a hitter’s head, make the guy start thinking about what pitch was coming next and find ways to frustrate him. But as a hitter Kendall was the exact opposite; he didn’t worry about what pitch was coming next, he just looked for something in the middle of the plate.
Hitting mechanics can get really complicated and I won’t pretend to know what adjustments different Royals hitters might need to make. But we can all see the strike zone and we can all see if Royals hitters are chasing borderline pitches before they have to. Pay attention to the Royals pitch selection, especially early in the count when they should be looking for their pitch and not the pitcher’s. If you see the Royals hitters chasing marginal pitches before they have two strikes, you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s gone wrong.
Royals lose to the Orioles, 4-0.
*Look on the bright side: the whole thing lasted two hours and 22 minutes. That’s what happens when you only have five hits, one walk and never force the other team to make a pitching change.
*Aoki pushed the envelope on that double, but remember; when a team isn’t hitting, they might want to take more risks on the base paths. They can’t count on getting several more hits to drive a cautious base runner in.
*Eric Hosmer did not hit the ball to the right side and move Aoki over from second to third; instead Eric flew out to left. Ned Yost said his hitters have to come to the plate with a better idea of what they’re trying to do, but I wanted to ask Hosmer if he got the sign to drive the run in. Middle of the order guys—and Hosmer is only batting second by default—are sometimes told to forget moving the runner over; go ahead and drive him in. I didn’t get to talk to Hosmer after the game, but I’ll give it a shot tomorrow.
*Mike Moustakas had two good plate appearances; lining out to centerfield in his first at-bat and working a walk in his second. His third at-bat wasn’t so hot—he struck out.
*Alcides Escobar made another one of those going up the middle, catching the ball, doing a 360 and throwing the runner out at first.
*Jeremy Guthrie got tagged with a wild pitch in the fourth inning, but Salvador Perez came up too soon after attempting to block the ball in the dirt. It went under Sal’s glove and through his legs.
*Location is going to be a theme in this post and Guthrie left a 2-1 sinker in a bad one: middle-middle. That’s what they call pitches in the middle of the strike zone when measured both horizontally and vertically. Chris Davis squared it up and hit 396 feet worth of home run.
Why Ned Yost didn’t pinch hit for Danny Valencia on Thursday night
In the sixth inning of Thursday night’s game, the Royals were down 2-1 when Danny Valencia came to the plate. Kansas City had the tying run in scoring position—this was a big at-bat—so Baltimore manager Buck Showalter pulled his left-handed starter, Wei-Yin Chen and brought in right-handed reliever, Darren O’Day.
Valencia had doubled and hit a ball to the warning track off Chen—the only thing that kept the ball in the park was the wind—so Showalter was not going to let Valencia see Chen a third time. O’Day throws from a low arm angle and is tough on righties; they’ve hit .189 off him this season, so why didn’t Ned Yost pinch hit Mike Moustakas for Danny Valencia?
Well, first, let’s admit it takes a remarkable flexibility of mind to ask a manager why a player wasn’t sent to the minors on Tuesday and then ask the same manager why that same player wasn’t used as pinch hitter in a crucial situation on Thursday. Nevertheless, Ned Yost actually thought it was a good question and during Friday’s early work, called me over and expanded on his answer from the night before.
Ned didn’t pinch hit for Danny Valencia because the Orioles have three-left-handed relievers in their bullpen and it was only the sixth inning. The Royals had 11 outs left and that spot in the order would come up at least one more time. Bring Moustakas into the game at that point and the Orioles would be able to counter Mike—who hits .170 against lefties, for two more at bats and maybe three if the game were to be tied and move to extra innings.
Yost also liked the way Valencia was swinging the bat—a double and near-miss at a Grand Slam. All things considered, he decided to stick with Valencia. And talking about Thursday’s game leads me to…
What Dave Eiland had to say about the Nelson Cruz home run
I’d asked pitching coach Dave Eiland for some of his time because I had a couple questions about pitching. I told him I was smart enough to pay attention to what was thrown in fastball counts, but suspected there was more to it than that.
Turns out I was right.
Dave encouraged me—and I’m encouraging you—to pay attention to pitch location as well as pitch selection. Thursday night I wrote about the 17 fastballs Nelson Cruz saw from the on-deck circle and in the batter’s box before he timed one of those fastballs and hit it out of the park.
Eiland thought it was a valid criticism, but added that if Yordano Ventura had hit his spot—the pitch was supposed to be down and away—Cruz would not have hit a homer and he and I wouldn’t be talking about it.
Why Yordano Ventura threw so many fastballs
When you can throw 100 miles an hour there’s a big temptation to do it; but if you keep throwing 100 miles an hour, big league hitters will adjust. Even the hardest throwers need to show the hitters something else. In Yordano’s Ventura’s case, that’s a curveball and a changeup.
But in the first four innings of Thursday’s game Ventura couldn’t find the feel for those off-speed pitches. If you saw him shaking catcher Salvador Perez off, it was probably because Sal was calling for something off-speed and Yordano didn’t feel like he could throw it. But Dave Eiland encouraged Yordano to keep trying; he’d need those off-speed pitches later.
Take a look at the scorebook and you can see exactly when Ventura found his off-speed stuff; the fifth inning. He struck out David Lough, Nick Markakis and Manny Machado in order. Ventura still had it going on in the sixth when he struck out Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz.
So I wasn’t wrong about Ventura throwing so many fastballs that Nelson Cruz had a great opportunity to time one, but there was a very good reason Ventura threw so many fastballs—he didn’t feel like he had a choice.
How to win Jason Kendall’s catcher’s mask
Here’s the deal: click on the link below and it takes you to a landing page for the new book "Throwback." St. Martin’s Press is encouraging readers to help spread the word about the book and if you do, we send you a signed bookplate—an autographed sticker that goes into your copy of the book. You also get a chance to win an autographed Jason Kendall catcher’s mask.
(If the link doesn’t work—our system has somehow been adding "/_blank" to it—just copy and paste the link or delete the "/_blank" if you get to an error page.)