Judging the Royals

Danny Duffy makes one mistake

Kansas City Royals' Danny Duffy (41) hands the ball to Salvador Perez, left, after being relieved during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Kansas City Royals' Danny Duffy (41) hands the ball to Salvador Perez, left, after being relieved during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, July 19, 2014. AP

When your offense doesn’t score it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching and defense; they have no room for error and that was the case in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Danny Duffy pitched six and two-thirds innings and gave up one earned run — seems like that ought to be good enough to win a ballgame.

Duffy’s one mistake was a belt-high fastball to Mike Napoli. Bad enough to throw that pitch any time, but throw it in a 3-1 count when the hitter is looking fastball and bad things tend to happen. It was also the fifth straight fastball of the at-bat. Napoli saw six fastballs in his first at bat, one in his second at bat, so when he saw his twelfth fastball of the night, he was ready and homered to left field.

As I’ve said before, you can get away with throwing fastballs in fastball counts, but they better be well located. This one wasn’t — Duffy left it up — but making one mistake shouldn’t be enough to get you beat.

The Kansas City Royals lose this one 2-1 and fall back to .500.

Game notes

First inning: Jarrod Dyson led off the game and Boston starter Rubby De La Rosa had trouble throwing strikes, walking Dyson on four pitches. Then Omar Infante came to the plate and De La Rosa missed the strike zone once again.

Even though Dyson is a stolen base threat, there’s no reason to run if the pitcher can’t throw strikes; cool your jets, he might walk you into scoring position. But once De La Rosa threw a strike, Dyson took off—and got doubled off when Infante lined out to center field. Dyson never picked up the ball and didn’t get back to first base in time. It was the first of two mistakes Dyson made on the base paths.

Second inning: Billy Butler got another 2-seamer inside, but instead of pulling it on the ground to the left side, he hit the ball back up the middle for a single.

With two down and Butler on first base, Nori Aoki worked a 3-0 count, but it was not a situation that called for a green light. Aoki doesn’t have a homer this season and even if he hit a double, Butler was unlikely to score from first base. Aoki took the 3-0 pitch and eventually walked.

Bottom of the second inning: With Mike Napoli at the plate Duffy finally threw a curve and missed, then threw another one with the count 3-2. That breaking ball missed as well and Napoli walked. Jonny Gomes followed with a single and the ball caromed off the left field wall into shallow left field. Alcides Escobar didn’t give up on the ball just because it was headed down the left-field line; I’m sure he’s been warned about the possibility of that particular carom. Esky fielded the ball and threw Napoli out at third base.

Third inning: Jarrod Dyson tripled and then didn’t slide at home plate when Omar Infante hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield. Dyson was safe, but the play was far closer than it should have been — and for no good reason. Dyson’s strength is supposed to be speed on the base paths; getting doubled off first base and coming in standing at home plate is not good base running. The Royals do not have much margin for error and need to play good, fundamental baseball at all times.

Fourth inning: Billy Butler grounded into his 14th double play  — it seems like more — and according to the guys on TV, that’s not even the team record. Rex Hudler said Salvador Perez has hit into 15 double plays this year.

Bottom of the fourth inning: Mike Napoli scored when Alcides Escobar made an error on what looked like an inning-ending double play ball. To be fair, Napoli ran in front of Esky just as the ball was arriving and the distraction might have caused the error.

Seventh inning: Duffy gave up a single to Jackie Bradley Jr., and then began mixing in slide-steps as he delivered the ball to home plate. When a pitcher slide-steps he doesn’t pick his front foot up so high and that gets the ball to the plate more quickly.

The downside is that some pitchers have trouble throwing strikes out of a slide-step delivery. When that’s the case the base runner can just wait until the pitcher is in a count that requires him to throw a strike and then run; he knows the pitcher won’t slide-step if he’s desperate to keep the ball in the zone.

Ninth inning: The Red Sox had their closer — Koji Uehara — in the game and broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre said that closers seem to get hurt more by the long ball than a string of hits. Uehara didn’t get hurt by either one this time; the Royals went in order and the game was over.

Sal’s All-Star mound visit

This moment got away from me at the time, but it’s worth going back to the first inning of the All-Star game to talk about Salvador Perez’ mound visit.

Andrew McCutchen started the game with a single, then Felix Hernandez threw a wild pitch and McCutchen advanced to second base. That’s when Salvador Perez went out to the mound. It’s quite likely that Perez had to go to the mound to find out what sign system Hernandez wanted to use with a runner on second base.

If so, that’s not good.

Perez warmed Hernandez up and asking what sign system he wanted to use with a runner on second base could and should be done before the game ever started. Going out to the mound during the game slows everything down and puts the defense on their heels.

When you see a reliever come into the game and the catcher has to go to the mound, it’s likely he’s asking about signs with a runner on second — and he should have asked before the game ever started.

Sign systems with a runner on second

A runner on second base can see the catcher’s signs, so the catcher can’t just put one sign down — otherwise the runner on second can relay the sign back to the hitter. You can make the sign systems as complicated as you like: second sign after previous pitch is an example. That means if the previous pitch was a curve, once the catcher signals curve, the real sign is the one flashed two signs later.

But if you make the signs too complicated, the pitcher and catcher might miscommunicate. That means a cross-up and that can mean a passed ball or wild pitch — the runner on second is now on third.

A more common sign system would be something like second sign, shake, first. That means the second sign in the sequence is the real sign and if the pitcher shakes the sign off, now the first sign in the next sequence is the real sign.

But make the signs too simple and the runner on second will figure them out — especially if the runner is on second base is out there for several pitches. And make the runner a catcher and the problem gets worse; catcher know all the systems and they’ll pick them up after three or four pitches.