On Tuesday afternoon against the New York Mets, Royals starting pitcher Chris Young threw 93 pitches.
92 of them worked out OK, one of them changed the game.
In the fourth inning with the game scoreless, Yoenis Cespedes started the inning with a walk. Cespedes will steal a base on occasion, so Young was pitching out of a slide step and slide steps can cause a pitch to stay up in the zone.
With the count 1-0 on Neil Walker, Young wanted to throw a fastball on the outer half of the plate. When hitters get ahead in the count (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1) they often look to “turn and burn” — look for something on the inner half and try to pull the ball for a home run or at least extra bases.
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Young wanted to take advantage of what he hoped would be an aggressive swing by Walker; put the ball on the outer half of the plate, let Walker try to pull it and then hope for a weak roll-over grounder or an infield popup.
But Young didn’t get the pitch to the outer half of the plate; he left it up and middle-in and Walker was able to pull the ball into the right-field seats for a two-run home run. Asked after the game how much the pitch missed by and Young said: “Four or five inches.”
That’s how good you have to be in the big leagues; throw 93 pitches, miss your spot by four or five inches on one pitch and you’re looking at a loss. Not every pitch that misses is hit out of the park, but miss the mitt and bad things tend to happen.
Chris Young had a good outing on Tuesday (five innings pitched, three hits, two runs), but Noah Syndergaard had a better one and the Royals took their first loss of 2016.
Pitch away when you’re behind; in when you’re ahead, maybe
That’s a pitching rule of thumb: when you’re behind in the count and suspect the hitter is looking to pull the ball and do damage, pitch away. When you’re ahead in the count and suspect the hitter is going to delay his swing and try not the get fooled by breaking pitches, bust him in.
But that pattern can change.
If you follow that formula too religiously, some smart hitter or hitting coach is going to notice the pattern and look for the pitch away when they’re 2-0 or look to pull the ball 0-2. You gotta switch things up enough so the hitters can’t sit on either pitch.
3 p.m. starts
The Mets and Royals combined for two runs, nine hits and 21 strikeouts Tuesday.
Some of that was just good pitching — afterwards everyone said Noah Syndergaard was a beast — but some of it can also be attributed to the 3 p.m. start time. Games that start at 1 or 7 p.m. at Kauffman Stadium have fewer problems with shadows, but a game that starts at 3 p.m. is going to be a bear.
The hitters have a bright background with the sun shining on the center-field wall and only see a dim silhouette of the pitcher and the ball being thrown at them. It’s hard to pick up spin or track the flight of the ball.
And if the pitcher in question is throwing sliders in the low 90s and sinkers in the mid-to-upper 90s, forget it.
Fuentes plays deep
Until right fielder Reymond Fuentes gets used to tracking fly balls against the upper-deck backdrop in Kauffman Stadium, outfield coach Rusty Kuntz will position him a little deeper to give him more reaction time — so if a ball drops in front of Fuentes, it might not be his fault.
Expect Fuentes to be positioned a bit shallower in the coming weeks.
Hosmer’s headfirst slide
Sunday night Eric Hosmer slid into first base head-first, so I asked base running coach Rusty Kuntz what he thinks about that play. Rusty said if Hosmer is safe he says, “Great job” — if Hosmer is out Rusty asks, “Are you out of you mind?”
Hosmer was safe, so it was a great job.