Judging the Royals

Danny Duffy is figuring it out

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy follows through on a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning of a baseball game Monday, June 30, 2014, in Minneapolis.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy follows through on a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the fifth inning of a baseball game Monday, June 30, 2014, in Minneapolis. AP

Danny Duffy has been pitching very well lately, and one of the key ingredients to his effectiveness has been his fastball. Duffy can control a game when he uses his fastball to attack the zone, hit spots, get ahead in the count, and set up his breaking stuff. Duffy was clearly committed to being aggressive with his fastball from the start against the Twins on Monday night. When he was on with his fastball, Duffy was dominant; only falling behind in the count once in his first three innings. Duffy was hitting spots, getting Twins hitters to swing and miss or jam themselves, and climbing the ladder to get strikeouts and pop-ups.

But in the first two innings, there were two instances in which his fastball stayed out over the plate, and both times Twins’ hitters capitalized on it. Against Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the first, Duffy got ahead in the count 0-2 with a fastball and a curve. Duffy—wanting to be aggressive—threw another fastball, but missed low and in. Then, rather than wasting a pitch or going back to his off-speed stuff, Duffy again attacked with a fastball low and away – but left it too far out over the plate.

Suzuki took it the other way for a single to right-center field. In the second inning, Duffy got ahead 0-2 to Kendrys Morales with two fastballs, then went to his curve, which Morales fouled off. Again, wanting to be aggressive in a breaking-ball count, Duffy threw a high fastball, trying to climb the ladder and get Morales to strikeout or pop-up. But Duffy left it in the heart of the plate, and Morales ripped it down the line – right into the glove of Mike Moustakas, who made a nice stab on the line-out.

In both situations, Duffy attacked hitters with his fastball in breaking-ball counts, clearly being aggressive and looking to force the issue with the Twins’ lineup. But in both at-bats, he caught too much of the plate, and the pitches were well-hit. It’s a tough line to toe: wanting to be aggressive, even in pitcher’s counts, and attack the zone, but also needing to hit spots and stay out of the middle of the plate.

As a pitcher, aggression with the fastball is a very powerful weapon – but without execution, it can backfire on you.

However, throughout the rest of his outing, Duffy made a nice adjustment and started throwing better fastballs when he was ahead in the count. He stopped leaving fastballs up in the zone and instead was able to hit spots, jam hitters, and stay down in the zone, getting outs and setting up his breaking stuff, which he and Sal Perez mixed in nicely. He controlled the Twins’ offense while his teammates built up a lead, setting up the Royals’ victory to open the series.

Duffy had a strong outing Monday night, but his ability to make adjustments throughout the game was especially impressive. He has been hitting a groove lately, and he seems to really understand his identity, his game plan, and how it needs to be executed. Even when Duffy got in trouble in the fifth inning, when he couldn’t get his fastball down and gave up two doubles and a run to the Twins, he made another nice adjustment and went to his curveball to get Sam Fuld, the next hitter, out. Duffy’s talent is obvious, but his ability to recognize the game plan, execute it, and make adjustments when necessary will be a big weapon going forward for the Royals.

—Paul Judge

Moose hits to the opposite field

Mike Moustakas had a couple hits to the opposite field and got his average up to .184. A while back Mike told me when he was feeling good he felt like he could hit a ball through or over a shift, but you’d think going oppo is a good sign; it’s what Mike was doing when he was hitting so well in spring training.

Hosmer hitting at-em balls

Eric hit a ball just short of the 411 sign in center, but it was still an F8 in the book. Sunday Hosmer hit three balls on the screws, but had nothing to show for it. Hosmer hitting the ball hard and, if he keeps it up, eventually that’ll show in his average.

Gordon’s nice bit of base running

Alex Gordon led off the fourth with a double and Salvador Perez was up next. Hit a ball to the right side and the runner can advance to third, but the pitcher knows that so he’ll do everything he can to make a right-handed hitter pull the ball.

That’s what Perez did.

A runner on second base ordinarily can’t advance on a ground ball hit in front of him, but there are exceptions. If a ball is hit softly and the third baseman or shortstop has to come forward to field it, it opens up the base and a runner might make it to third. Gordon timed third baseman Trevor Plouffe’s throw to first and took off after Plouffe release the ball. That allowed Gordon to advance 90 feet.

Late time

Batters will sometimes ask for time just as the pitcher is starting his windup. In some cases it’s a ploy to throw the pitcher rhythm off and as you might imagine, pitchers don’t like it.

With the count 2-1 and Brian Dozier at bat, the home plate umpire, Cory Blaser, called time and pointed at Salvador Perez. That was to let Danny Duffy know his catcher called time; not the hitter. Umpires don’t want pitchers retaliating against hitters for something they didn’t do.

Fastball in fastball counts

Salvador Perez got a 2-1 fastball and homered. As we’ve seen: you can throw fastballs in fastball counts, but you better locate them well.

Why do the Royals want 42-year old Raul Ibanez?

Two words: veteran leadership.

Don’t worry about his numbers, although if Ibanez is used in the right situations he can still do some things. In fact I remember him hitting a ninth-inning home run off Greg Holland last year to push a game to extra innings.

The number you should pay attention to is 1996; that’s when Ibanez made it to the big leagues and he’s still here. Guys who have careers that long get respect and it doesn’t hurt that Ibanez is fluent in both Spanish and English.

Most people would be surprised at how much influence players have on their teams. This ain’t high school and a coach who gets crosswise with a player may find himself in trouble. Coaches are much more easily replaced than multi-million dollar ballplayers, so veteran players need to provide leadership. A veteran player can tell a teammate to cut down on the partying or run a ball out or explain what it takes to win.

I’m guessing that’s why Raul Ibanez is here.

Win the series

One of the ways veteran ballplayers get their minds around a 162-game schedule is to break it up into digestible chunks; don’t worry about winning 90 games—worry about winning the series you’re in.

On this road trip the Royals are playing nine games against teams with sub-.500 records; Minnesota, Cleveland and Tampa Bay. The Royals made a good start on winning the series against the Twins with Monday’s 6-1 victory.