Judging the Royals

Do umpires discriminate against right-handed pitchers?

Right now it appears umpires are allowing left-handed pitchers to do something right-handed pitchers can’t and Ned Yost doesn’t like it. In the third inning of the Kansas City Royals 5-4 loss to Los Angeles Dodgers, pitcher James Shields was called for a balk with a runner on third base. That’s how the Dodgers got their first run. But did James Shields really balk?

Here’s the part of the rule book that deals with balks and pertains to this situation:

Rule 8.05(c) Comment: Requires the pitcher, while touching his plate, to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base. 

Tuesday night left-hander Clayton Kershaw was not stepping directly toward first base before attempting a pickoff. Rules have to be interpreted and umpires have allowed left-handed pitchers to step slightly toward home plate and still throw the ball over to first base. And that’s what Kershaw was doing on Tuesday.

But on Wednesday, James Shields had a balked called on him for doing the exact same thing, but this time the throw was to third. Shields had one down, Dee Gordon on third base and Yasiel Puig at the plate. An attempted pickoff with a runner on third bse can shorten that runner’s lead and that can make a difference if the runner tries to score on a groundball to the infield.

As soon as Shields made his move, third-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called a balk and Gordon scored, but it was the same move that lefties are allowed to make. Twice now Shields has had that move called a balk and James says he’s going to have to shelve it unless the umpires change the way they’re interpreting the move. Ned Yost said he thinks the umpires are being caught by surprise and calling a balk because they haven’t seen the move from a right-hander before. The team is going send video of the move to the league and ask for clarification.

But it seems pretty clear already: umpires are discriminating against right-handed pitchers.

Breaking news: Wade Davis gives up a run

I’m pretty sure the last time Wade Davis gave up a run, Harry Truman was in office. Wade’s been so good for so long—if I heard right 20 outing between runs—that it comes as a shock that he can’t throw scoreless innings while walking on water.

Wade came into a tie game in the eighth inning and started things by throwing Adrian Gonzalez a 98-MPH fastball in on his hands. Gonzalez was jammed and fouled it off to the left side. Wade then threw another fastball—this one 97 MPH—but didn’t get it in on Adrian’s hands. The pitch was out over the plate and the Dodger DH singled to right.

Matt Kemp then flew out to right.

Andre Ethier followed that with a single to center field and Gonzalez went first to third. Even though it looked like Jarrod Dyson had a chance to throw out Gonzalez, Jarrod threw the ball back into second base. With one down that kept the double play in order and gave Wade a chance to get of the inning with one pitch.

With runners at first and third Justin hit the ball back up the middle and Davis got lucky; the ball hit his foot. Adrian Gonzalez was breaking for home and Davis picked the ball and trapped Gonzalez between bases. Now there were two outs and runners on first and second.

Davis walked Scott Van Slyke and even though he has better numbers than the on-deck hitter—A.J. Ellis—Wade said he wasn’t working around Van Slyke. Wade was pitching him away and didn’t get a 3-1 call. Now the bases were loaded.

Davis threw Ellis three fastballs and the count was 1-2. The count was still 1-2 when Davis and catcher Brett Hayes had a meeting on the mound. Wade said they talked about throwing a cutter because he’d thrown so many fastballs during the at-bat and the plan was to front door Ellis: throw a cutter inside and either catch the inner corner of the plate or at a minimum, back Ellis off the dish and then go back outside.

The ball slipped as Davis released it, he plunked Ellis and Wade’s scoreless streak was over.

Before the game Wade and I talked about Greg Holland and his mental toughness; when Greg gives it up he comes back the next day ready to go. Wade said it’s almost like Holly has amnesia—maybe Wade could develop the same problem.

But fans shouldn’t forget how good Wade Davis has been.

Game notes

*The Royals played outstanding defense all night: Dyson robbed the Dodgers of three hits, Hosmer made an outstanding play to save another hit and Brett Hayes threw out a runner at third base.

*In the fourth inning Mike Moustakas drove in a run and then advanced on a high throw home. Keep the throw low and fake a cut and Mike has to stop at first.

*Dan Haren got a quick hook in the fifth inning and former Royals closer Jeff Montgomery told me why he thought that move was made: Haren had just walked Eric Hosmer and Haren doesn’t walk too many people—the walk was a sign. It was also a one-run game at that point and with the middle of the order coming to the plate, L.A. manager Don Mattingly wasn’t going to let things get out of hand.

*The Royals wasted an opportunity in the bottom of the sixth when the first two batters got on base, but Alcides Escobar couldn’t get a bunt down. Jarrod Dyson followed that with a strikeout. Bunt successfully and hit a routine fly ball and you have a different ballgame.

*The game ended when Lorenzo Cain lined out to first base and Pedro Ciriaco—the tying run—was doubled off second. The baseball rule is "freeze on a line drive" but Pedro was motoring for home. Ned Yost said Ciriaco got too amped up and made the wrong decision.

Moose gets ejected for being overly-enthusiastic

Before that game-ending double play, Pedro Ciriaco stole second base and was called out. Ned Yost protested the call and replays showed Ciriaco was safe. Shortly after that Mike Moustakas was seen leaving the dugout.

After the game Ned was asked about Mike’s departure and he said Moose was thrown out for clapping. Apparently, the umpires thought Mike was mocking them and weren’t going to stand for it. Ned pointed out that it just might be that Moose was excited that his team had the tying run in scoring position. Fortunately Mike’s departure didn’t make much difference; he’d already been pulled from the game.

Later I saw Moose in the clubhouse and said: "You got tossed for clapping?" That might be a first in baseball.

Mike started laughing and said; "No comment."

I suggested Moose stick with that response; who knows what could happen to him if he gave an overly-enthusiastic answer.

Tomorrow’s an off-day

I’ve posted something pretty much every day since I went to spring training in mid-March. I think I’ll take an off-day and be back at it on Friday.

See you then.