Judging the Royals

Royals came back, beat White Sox three times? Enjoy the moment

Royals rookie Brett Eibner discusses walk-off single

The Royals scored seven runs in the ninth inning on Saturday, beating the Chicago White 8-7. Rookie Brett Eibner had two hits in the inning.
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The Royals scored seven runs in the ninth inning on Saturday, beating the Chicago White 8-7. Rookie Brett Eibner had two hits in the inning.

After Sunday’s 5-4 win over the White Sox, a reporter joked that it was just another ho-hum, come-from-behind Royals victory. Manager Ned Yost said there was nothing ho-hum about it ... and that’s worth remembering.

Longtime Royals scout Art Stewart was coming into the Royals' clubhouse as reporters were leaving and announced that what we’d just seen had never been done before in team history: three comeback victories in a row where the Royals were down by two runs or more, seventh inning or later in months containing two syllables or less.

(OK, I made that last part up, and I’m only pretty sure I got the first three parts right, but the point is this: You don’t see this kind of baseball every day, so you ought to appreciate it when you do.)

This is baseball.

You play 162 games stretched out over half a year, so everyone is going to have their ups and downs. The Royals went through a bad stretch, and now they’re on the rise. The White Sox started out great, and now they’re scuffling.

And if website comments are any indication (and let’s hope they’re not) White Sox fans are turning on their team. Apparently manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper should be fired and pitcher Matt Albers needs to go on a diet.

Nobody gets through 162 games without some struggles and the Royals aren’t going to win every game with dramatic comebacks, so enjoy it when they do.

There’s nothing ho-hum about it.

Cuthbert, Merrifield and Eibner

Because of injuries, the Royals have brought up some young players from the minors, and so far those guys are playing great. You might want to enjoy that while it lasts, as well.

Because it’s unlikely Brett Eibner is going to hit .455 and Whit Merrifield probably won’t hit .361. Cheslor Cuthbert, on the other hand, just might hit .257 ... and here’s a story that explains why.

One day Wade Davis and I were talking about pitching to new guys and rookies and Wade said once a hitter gets enough at-bats, the “zone fills up.”

Pitchers get charts that show hot and cold spots within the strike zone for each hitter they face. As a hitter gets more and more at-bats, the zone fills up and his strengths and weaknesses become more apparent.

After Cuthbert’s first five games in the big leagues, he was hitting .333 with a slugging percentage of .500. But eventually the zone filled up on him. Fourteen games later, Cuthbert was hitting .217.

Eibner has 13 big-league plate appearances, Merrifield has 36 and Cuthbert has 122.

Because he’s been in the big leagues longer, pitchers now have more information about how to get Cuthbert out; Eibner and Merrifield are still mysteries.

This is why a rookie can look like a future Hall of Famer for a month and then be back in the minors. When Eibner and Merrifield come back to Earth, don’t freak out. They may still be very good big-league players; we’ll just have a more accurate idea of how good they’ll be.

Until then, enjoy the show.

How to hit a 99 mph fastball

After games, reporters gather around a player’s locker and ask him questions. (And isn’t that the kind of inside information you look for when you come to this blog?)

A lot of reporters want to ask a question, so it’s considered polite to ask one question and then a follow-up.

Reporters who ask more than that are considered rude, and much of the time the reporter is asking half a dozen questions in hopes of getting TV time. That way everyone back at work can see what a terrific job he was doing by hogging the interview time. In journalism, a willingness to be rude is considered an asset.

(OK, I believe I’ve wandered far away from the point of this piece and I’m about to go yell at the kids on my lawn, so let’s get back on track.)

When so many reporters want to talk to a player, there’s no time for a conversation, so waiting until the player is done talking to everybody else can be a good move.

And sometimes that conversation takes place the next day; that’s what happened with catcher Drew Butera.

In Saturday afternoon’s seven-run comeback, Butera hit a game-tying double.

It was Butera’s first trip to the plate that day (he replaced Salvador Perez after Cuthbert chop-blocked him and got a 15-yard penalty), so White Sox manager Robin Ventura brought in flame-throwing reliever Tommy Kahnle.

Butera had been sitting in the bullpen most of the day, so bringing in a guy who throws a fastball in the upper 90s to face a guy who had yet to see a pitch wasn’t a bad plan.

Fortunately, Butera had a better one.

Kahnle throws a slider and a change-up, but so far in 2016, he throws a fastball over 80 percent of the time. Sunday morning, Butera told me he decided to look for that fastball and nothing else. If Kahnle beat him on a secondary pitch, so be it, but Butera was going to be ready for that 99 mph heater.

In a 1-1 count Butera got a heater to handle and tied the game up.

So how do you hit a 99 mph fastball?

Look for it.