Judging the Royals

How Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier started a Royals rally

In the top of the second inning Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier saw a total of four pitches; that was good for Jeremy Guthrie and bad for Zack Greinke. When a pitcher’s offense doesn’t give him enough time to rest, bad things can happen—in the bottom of the second inning, they did.

But let’s start at the beginning:

Jeremy Guthrie had an eight-pitch 1-2-3 first inning. Zack Greinke saw four hitters in the bottom of the first, but got out of it with a total of 10 pitches. Then Adrian Gonzalez stepped to the plate to start the second inning, swung at a first-pitch fastball and flew out to centerfield.

When the first hitter of an inning swings at the first pitch and makes an out, he puts pressure on the next hitter; you don’t want to make two outs on two pitches. But that’s just what happened; Matt Kemp also swung at the first pitch and he flew out to right field.

When the first two hitters make two outs on two pitches, the third hitter needs to take at least one strike and maybe two; Andre Ethier did neither. Ethier took one fastball for a ball and then swung at the next pitch, grounding out to Eric Hosmer.

When a pitcher gets no rest, pay attention to what happens in the next inning.

Zack Greinke came back out to pitch with almost no time to catch his breath and started things off by hanging a slider to Salvador Perez. Salvy didn’t waste any time, he hit it over the left field fence. Then Omar Infante saw six pitches and flew out to left, Mike Moustakas saw a couple more and popped up to third. Just when you might think Greinke was going to get out of the second inning with giving up only one run, Alcides Escobar singled, moved into scoring position on a wild pitch and then scored when Jarrod Dyson hit a line drive to left field.

The Royals went up 2-0 and were never behind again, eventually beating Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-2.

It may have looked like a Royals rally started in the bottom of the second with the Salvador Perez home run, but it actually started when Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier saw a total of four pitches in the top of the second inning.

The Dodgers keep Guthrie in the game

In the fourth inning the Dodgers did it again; they made three outs on five pitches. Once Dee Gordon struck out on three pitches and Hanley Ramirez popped up on the fourth pitch of the inning, you might think Yasiel Puig would take a pitch or two—nope.

The Dodgers right fielder hit the first pitch he saw and made an out.

To be fair it was a spectacular out: Jarrod Dyson made the catch while banging off the wall in centerfield. But sometimes, for the good of the team, a hitter needs to give away an at-bat. What he does with two outs may not be as important as giving his pitcher a chance to gather himself and prepare for the next inning.

The top of the fifth inning

Guthrie gave up two hits to start things off and with nobody out and the score 2-0, some combination of a strike out and double play would come in handy. Jeremy got the strikeout from Andre Ethier and then got a groundball from the Dodger catcher, A.J. Ellis.

The ball was hit slowly and that’s not ideal for a double play. On the other hand, Ellis wasn’t setting any land speed records while running to first base.

Matt Kemp was the runner coming into second; he didn’t manage to flip Omar Infante, but he did make Infante jump over him to avoid the slide. Infante chose to eat the ball and not make the throw to first. That left runners on first and third and cost Guthrie six more pitches to get out of the inning.

The Jarrod Dyson show

In the bottom of the fifth Jarrod Dyson got his second hit—he’d wind up with three—stole second and scored on a soft flare to right field. Dyson once told me he could get to top speed in two steps and it showed on this base-running play—not too many ballplayers could have scored from second on that flare to right.

There was nobody out and he had to wait to make sure the ball was down before motoring home.

The sign for a sinker

In the sixth inning with Dee Gordon on first base and Hanley Ramirez at the plate, Salvador Perez gave Jeremy Guthrie a sign. He dropped one finger and swirled it around like he was mixing a drink: that’s the sign for a sinker.

Perez was probably hoping for a double play ball, but Ramirez was jammed and hit the ball softly to Mike Moustakas. Moose had to go to first base; the ball was hit too slowly to turn two.

The bottom of the sixth: Esky picks up Omar and Moose

Salvador Perez led off with a double and Omar Infante failed to move him to third base by hitting the ball to the right side. It looked like Omar was trying to get the job done, but then took a 93-MPH fastball down and away—a pitch tailor-made for hitting to right side—for a called strike three.

With one down and Sal still on second, Mike Moustakas took two pitches in off the plate, then swung at a pitch in on his hands, popping up to third. Now with two down and Perez still loitering around second base, Alcides Escobar shot a ball down the right field line.

It looked like Yasiel Puig tried to make the catch, missed and then did a face plant into the right-field wall. If you haven’t played the corners at the K, they can be tricky and Puig played Escobar’s ball into a triple. Dyson singled and Esky trotted home with the fifth run of the night.

Why Adrian Gonzalez hit that ninth-inning home run

With the score 5-2 closer Greg Holland came in to pitch the ninth inning and the first batter he faced was Adrian Gonzalez. The count went 2-2 and then Holland threw Gonzalez a down and in slider; the Dodger first baseman hit the ball out of the park.

Lots of left-handed hitters hit down and in very well and Gonzalez is on that list. In fact, look up his hot zones and Gonzalez hits .474 on down and in pitches. So why go anywhere near that part of the strike zone?

A couple reasons:

Greg did not want to throw ball three because he did not want to start the inning with a leadoff walk; he said he’d rather take a chance on contact.

And second, Greg said if you look at a hitter’s hot zones you’ll often find a very cold zone right next to it. After Holland told me that I went back and looked and, sure enough, right next to that .474 down and in hot zone was a .167 zone on pitches in off the plate. Right below that .474 zone was an .091 zone. And on pitches way down and in—out of the strike zone—Gonzalez is 0-2 this year. Holland said if you can start a pitch at a hitter’s hot zone and then move the pitch out of that spot, you can convince a lot of hitters to swing the bat at a pitch they won’t hit very well.

So Holland had a plan, he just missed his spot.