Judging the Royals

Lee Judge: On Johnny Cueto, two-strike foul balls and that Davis-to-Hosmer pickoff at first

Johnny Cueto had a rough go in the opening innings of Game 2 of the ALDS, needing 49 pitches to make it through two innings.
Johnny Cueto had a rough go in the opening innings of Game 2 of the ALDS, needing 49 pitches to make it through two innings. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In 2015, when Johnny Cueto pitched for the Cincinnati Reds, his ERA was 2.62. In 2015, when Johnny Cueto pitched for the Kansas City Royals, his ERA was 4.76.

On Friday afternoon, when the Royals needed the Cincinnati Cueto, Johnny gave them the KC version. Johnny was inconsistent with his secondary pitches, and some of Salvador Perez’ game-calling didn’t help.

Catchers with an advanced sense of game-calling will ask a pitcher to throw his secondary pitches before the pitcher needs to throw those pitches for strikes —have the pitcher bounce a slider, curve or changeup in the dirt when the count’s 0-2 or 1-2 count, and the pitcher gets a feel for the pitch. Then, later in the game — when the pitcher needs those pitches for strikes — he’ll have a better chance of throwing a good one.

In the first inning, with one down and the count 3-2 on George Springer, Perez asked Cueto to throw his first curveball of the game. Sal did not have Johnny throw the curve when Springer was 0-2 or 1-2; Perez waited until Johnny had to throw it for a strike, and Johnny couldn’t do it.

That poorly-timed curve resulted in a walk, and that walk resulted in a run after Colby Rasmus doubled.

When a pitcher has everything working, calling a game is easier for the catcher; no matter what fingers he puts down, the pitcher will probably throw a pretty good pitch. But when a pitcher is struggling, he needs a catcher to help him through it ... and asking Johnny Cueto to throw a 3-2 curve for a strike when he hadn’t yet thrown a curve at all didn’t help.

Two-strike foul balls

Whenever you see a lot of two-strike foul balls — and Friday’s game had quite a few of them — it might be a sign that the pitcher does not have a “put-away” pitch that day. A put-away pitch is one that starts in the zone and then has late, nasty movement that leaves the batter swinging and missing.

If batters keep fouling off two-strike pitches, the pitcher’s put-away pitch (also known as a “chase” pitch) is not good enough to get a swing and miss.

Saber giveth, saber taketh away

If you’ve been cursing all the at-’em balls hit by the Royals and thinking the Astros have done a marvelous job positioning their defenders, you’re probably right. The Astros use some radical shifts that can pay off.

But don’t overlook the sixth-inning single that Kendrys Morales guided through the empty right side of the Astros’ infield, a ball that would have been an easy play had their second baseman been standing where he normally stands. Instead, the play turned into a single and allowed Eric Hosmer — the tying run at the time — to go first to third.

How about that Hosmer pick?

When he’s holding a runner, infielder Eric Hosmer has started positioning himself slightly off first base, and then making the tag on the runner’s body, not the hand.

That shortens the distance Hosmer must cover to make the tag. And it sure paid off in the ninth inning, when Wade Davis picked off pinch-runner Carlos Gomez — one of the biggest plays of the game.