Judging the Royals

How walking seven Toronto Blue Jays helped the Kansas City Royals win

Did the Kansas City Royals win despite walking seven Toronto Blue Jays or because they walked seven Toronto Blue Jays?

Take a look at who the Royals pitchers walked:

Two walks were issued to Jose Bautista—and one of the times he didn’t walk, Bautista homered—and three walks were issued to Edwin Encarnacion, a power hitter on a hot streak.

When big league pitchers face hitters who can change the game with one swing, the pitchers often decide to pitch those hitters "perfect." That means the pitcher tries to make perfect pitches and if he doesn’t—if he falls behind in the count—the pitcher does not give in. The pitcher refuses to throw a pitch over the heart of the plate in order to throw a strike. He either throws a ball off the plate intentionally—working around the hitter—or continues to pitch perfect.

But if a pitcher is going to avoid a lineup’s power hitters, he needs to go after the guys in front of the power hitters and behind the power hitters—the pitcher has got to get somebody out. Bautista was hitting third, Encarnacion was hitting fourth; how did the guys hitting second and fifth do?

Melky Cabrera was 0 for five; Brett Lawrie was 1 for 4.

That’s why the Blue Jays were never able to get a rally going; the Royals pitchers decided to make someone other than Bautista and Encarnacion beat them and that strategy worked. Issuing a walk to the right guy at the right time can help your team win.

The Royals beat the Blue Jays, 6-1.

Game notes

First inning: Veteran pitchers will often try to go through the other team’s lineup the first time on two pitches. J.A. Happ threw nothing but fastballs and a single slider in the first inning.

By contrast, Jason Vargas was in trouble right away. When that happens, pitchers may have to throw every pitch they’ve got to escape a jam. Jose Reyes tripled to lead off the game and Vargas was immediately throwing changeups and curves.

Nori Aoki, whose arm strength has been questioned on this site, saved a run with a great throw: Melky Cabrera hit a fly ball to right that looked plenty deep enough to score Reyes from third, but Aoki positioned himself behind where the ball would land, then came forward as he made the catch. That gave momentum to his throw home. Reyes did not try to score.

Second inning: With the exception of changeups thrown to Alex Gordon, Happ stayed with his fastball. Billy Butler singled, Gordon walked and Salvador Perez moved Billy to third with a deep fly ball to right field.

Then Danny Valencia came to the plate with runners at first and third, one down.

The Blue Jays wanted Valencia to hit a double play groundball, Valencia wanted to hit a fly ball to stay out of the double play and allow Butler to tag and score. Neither one happened: Danny took a fastball down the middle for a called strike three.

Third inning: The second time through the order, Happ started throwing more off-speed stuff; mixing in his slider and change.

Fourth inning: Danny Valencia took a hittable fastball, swung at breaking pitch down and was then 0-2. At that point Valencia was at the mercy of Happ and had to swing at fastball up and in. That resulted in a weak groundball to short. For the second time, taking a hittable fastball kept Danny Valencia from having a successful at-bat.

Fifth inning: You can pitch outside to power hitters, but if they have enough power, it may not help. Vargas threw a fastball up and away to Jose Bautista, but the key word in that sentence is "up." Bautista hit the ball over the right field fence.

Sixth inning: The rule of thumb is that in most at-bats you’ll get at least one pitch to hit. Salvador Perez swung at a first-pitch fastball up and in and popped it up. When Ned Yost was criticizing his hitters’ approach, he agreed that they sometimes weren’t staying at the plate long enough for a pitcher to make a mistake.

Valencia then continued a tough night at the plate: Danny got his mistake pitch, a 2-0 fastball—but fouled it back. After that Danny got marginal pitches and didn’t square any of them up.

Seventh inning: Yesterday I said you rarely get to write 9-3 in your scorebook; today I got the chance to do it on consecutive days. Omar Infante hit a pop fly down the right field line, assumed it was foul and failed to run the ball out. It dropped fair and Jose Bautista threw Omar out at first base.

Maybe the scariest pitch of the game came in the bottom of the seventh when Aaron Crow fell behind to Dioner Navarro and threw him a 3-1 fastball with two runners on. The score was 4-1 and Navarro was the tying run. Navarro smoked the fastball, but centerfielder Jarrod Dyson ran the ball down.

Sometimes you throw a pitch knowing it might get crushed, you just hope it gets hit at somebody.

Eighth inning: Lorenzo Cain put the game away with a two-run home run when he got a 2-1 fastball. you can throw fastballs in fastball counts, but they better be well located.

Crow and Herrera saved the bullpen for tomorrow

Aaron Crow threw one inning, Kelvin Herrera threw two; that saves the Royals bullpen and puts them in good shape for Saturday and Sunday’s games.

Should relievers shake catchers?

A relief pitcher sits in the bullpen for seven innings and comes into the game in the eighth. He finishes his warm ups and the catcher drops a sign. The pitcher doesn’t like the pitch—should he shake off the catcher?

There are veteran catchers who say no and here’s why:

The catcher has been calling pitches for seven innings; he’s got a better idea of what each hitter is doing that night than a reliever who’s been sitting 400 feet away from home plate. A scouting report may say you don’t want to throw this guy a slider because he’ll stay on it and take it to the opposite field. But lately the hitter’s been getting beat by fastballs in on his hands. The catcher knows this and looks down at the hitter’s feet. The catcher sees the hitter has opened his stance to get to that inside fastball. The hitter might hit sliders most nights, but tonight you can throw him one.

And there’s no way for a reliever who hasn’t been paying attention to know that. Even if he has been paying attention he can’t see the hitter’s feet from the bullpen.

So the catcher is convinced a slider’s the way to go and the pitcher disagrees; what happens next?

If it’s a veteran pitcher and a young catcher, maybe the pitcher wins; the catcher says OK, puts down another sign and the pitcher doesn’t throw a slider. If the catcher is a veteran or a young guy with some guts, he may go to the mound and tell the pitcher he’s wrong—the slider is the right pitch.

If a catcher is constantly getting shook and never goes to the mound to confront the pitcher that might be a bad sign; the catcher is not taking control of the game. He’ll let the pitcher throw whatever he likes and then any mistake is on the guy who threw the pitch. On the other hand, if the pitcher is a future Hall of Famer, maybe the catcher should give in—the pitcher just might know what he’s doing.

It helps if the catcher is known for being a standup guy; if the pitcher goes with the catcher’s pitch, the pitcher wants to know the catcher will stand behind his decision; he called it, put the blame on him.

And here’s another thing that can complicate matters: if the pitcher says he can’t throw that pitch right now—he doesn’t have the feel for the slider at the moment—that might change things. The pitcher is the one with the ball in his hand. But that still doesn’t change the fact that a catcher has a better feel for what’s happening that night than a relief pitcher—catchers have been in the game, the relief pitcher hasn’t.

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.)

Throwback book signing

Jason Kendall and I will be signing our new book "Throwback" this Saturday at the Zona Rosa Barnes & Noble book store. We’ll talk with fans, answer questions and sign books starting at 2 PM.

Stop by and say hi.