Judging the Royals

Greg Holland and the mound visit

A while back I asked Royals closer Greg Holland how he feels about mound visits and since he’ll probably pitch in the All-Star game tonight, now seems like a good time to post this piece. What I wanted to know was if there was ever time in Greg’s life that he was standing on the pitching mound wishing someone would come out and make a visit. Most pitchers I’ve gotten to know hate mound visits; they’re trying to accomplish something and a mound visit just seems like an interruption of the process.

Holland said it’s a little irritating when he throws ball one and the catcher comes out—are you kidding me? Give me a chance to make an adjustment—but there are times when he’s not on the same page with the catcher and a mound visit is helpful.

If the catcher puts down the sign for a fastball and Holland shakes it off, then the catcher puts the fastball sign down again and Holland shakes it off again, Greg wants the catcher to come out to the mound and talk—don’t just keep putting down the same sign. Greg wants the catcher to come out to the mound and tell him why he thinks the fastball is the right pitch in this situation. If the catcher makes a good case, Holland will go along with it. If Greg isn’t convinced, he still might want to throw something else.

So when you see a catcher visit the mound it might be a negotiating session you’re seeing, not just miscommunication on signs. Whoever wins the argument, if the pitch gets hammered, the other guy better support the pitch selection. If the media comes in the clubhouse after the game and the pitcher says he didn’t want to throw that pitch, but the catcher insisted—or the catcher says he tried to talk the pitcher out of throwing a slider in that spot—you’ve got trouble brewing.

Whatever the result of a mound visit, everybody needs to close ranks—at least to the outside world—and support each other.

Those on-field bullpens

Watching the Royals in Tampa Bay I was struck by the fact that there was nothing between the guys in the bullpen and the fans but a low wall. Fans were close enough to listen in on bullpen conversations and some of those bullpen conversations could get a player in hot water.

Add the fact that relievers are warming up in foul territory, keeping one eye out for line drives headed their way and position players have to run up and over pitching mounds while chasing foul balls and those on-field bullpens seem like a really bad idea.

The other day Cody Clark, the Royals bullpen catcher, threw out another drawback of the foul territory bullpen: he’s got to block pitches in the dirt to keep them from rolling out on the field. It might not seem like a big thing to your or me, but we’re not the ones taking 90-MPH fastballs off the chest.

Don’t get beat inside

That’s what the Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry was told back when he was closing ball games: don’t get beat by pitching inside and letting a power hitter pull the ball into the short part of the ballpark—the corners.

But once hitters figured out Doug wasn’t ever going to come inside, they’d start diving to the outside corner. The outside corner would then become the middle of the plate and those power hitters would start hitting rockets back through the box. It didn’t take long before Doug said something’s gotta change; so he started pitching in off the plate.

Let those power hitters rip a couple balls foul, then go off-speed away.

Doug also said ordinary hitters become tough outs late in the game because the concentration level goes up. The star players become superstars. Mike Macfarlane once told me the same thing; Manny Ramirez might be an easy out early, but if the game was on the line; watch out for that final at-bat.

Third times a charm—for the hitter

I’ve heard big league hitters say that if they see 100 miles an hour three times in a row, they’ll hit that third fastball. It’s a game of adjustments and they’ll adjust. So a pitcher and catcher who keep throwing the same pitch to the same location (hey, that last one worked, let’s do it again) is playing with fire.

If you want to keep going off-speed down, mix in something hard up and in. Straighten the batter up and make off-speed down look like it’s a long way away. If you want to go hard in, mix in something away; get the hitter leaning out, then bust him in.

If you throw the same pitch three times in a row, you better know if the guy at the plate can adjust to what you’re doing. And if it’s a guy who’s been in the big leagues for a while, he probably can.