Judging the Royals

Kelvin Herrera gets a seventh-inning save

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera (40) yells after striking out Cleveland Indians' Nick Swisher to end the top of the seventh inning during Saturday's baseball game on July 26, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera (40) yells after striking out Cleveland Indians' Nick Swisher to end the top of the seventh inning during Saturday's baseball game on July 26, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

Every day, the Royals provide official game notes to the people who cover the team, and here’s part of what Saturday’s game notes said: When the Royals lead after six innings, they’re 37-2. When they lead after seven, they’re 40-1. And when they lead after eight innings, the Royals are 44-1. Now let’s look at the other side. When the Royals trail after six innings, they’re 8-38. Trailing after seven, they’re 4-42. And when they trail after eight innings, they’re 2-44.

So here’s the lesson: Make sure you have a lead after six innings. Saturday night they did.

The score was 7-5 and lefty Scott Downs came out to start the seventh inning. He had replaced Jeremy Guthrie the inning before, and Ned Yost wanted Downs to face left-handers Jason Kipnis and Chris Dickerson. Ned hoped Downs would get at least one of them and then Kelvin Herrera could face Carlos Santana.

Downs got neither of them, and Herrera came into a bit of a mess: nobody out, the tying run on first and the winning run at the plate. Twelve pitches later, the Royals were out of it. Santana popped up to short, Dickerson flew out to left and Nick Swisher struck out.

That got the ball to set-up man Wade Davis, and Davis got the ball to closer Greg Holland. Look at the box score and Herrera got a "hold," but a seventh-inning save might have been more appropriate.

The Royals beat the Indians 7-5.

What went wrong in the five-run second inning

Jeremy Guthrie got beat on his off-speed stuff.

Carlos Santana homered on a changeup.

Yan Gomes singled on a cutter.

Mike Aviles singled on a curveball.

Jason Kipnis doubled on a change-up.

And Jose Ramirez singled on a curve.

The only hitter that beat Guthrie on his fastball was Michael Brantley. The Cleveland center fielder has been red-hot, but hasn’t had much to show for it. In the second inning, Guthrie was up with a lot of off-speed pitches, and they were getting knocked around the yard. In fact, his best pitch of the inning might have been a fastball thrown to Carlos Santana. First base was open, and the pitch was ball four. There were two runners in scoring position. Avoid hot hitters like the plague.

A brain-cramp cost Guthrie a run

Before the Brantley RBI double, Guthrie had a chance to get out of the inning on a Jose Ramirez ground ball to Billy Butler over at first base — but Guthrie forgot to cover the bag. OK, that’s not totally fair. Jeremy did cover the bag but made his move too late.

A pitcher can’t wait to see whether he’s needed and then run over to first base. Pitchers have to break for first base every time a ball is hit to their left. Guthrie failed to do that, and it cost him a run.

How the Royals got back in the game

The Indians were up 5-1 going into the fifth. Mike Moustakas led off the inning with a walk, and then, after Billy Butler popped up on the infield, went first to third on a Lorenzo Cain single. With a chance to drive in a run without a hit, Jarrod Dyson swung at two marginal pitches away and then looked at strike three down the middle. That meant Alcides Escobar had a much tougher RBI opportunity. He would have to get an actual two-out hit to score Moose — and he did.

Now Cain went first to third on Esky’s single to right, and David Murphy made the mistake of trying to throw out Cain. Murphy airmailed the throw to third, and that allowed Escobar to move up to second base.

Next Nori Aoki stepped to the plate, and the outfield positioning made it clear the Indians did not expect Nori to pull the ball. There was a Grand Canyon sized-gap between right fielder Murphy and the foul line — and that’s just where Aoki hit the ball. By the time Murphy tracked it down, Aoki was on third base.

A passed ball later, and the game was tied.

What happens when you hang on Eephus pitch?

In the fifth inning with the score tied and one down, Jeremy Guthrie threw a 67-mph curveball to the red-hot Carlos Santana.

The Indians' first baseman had already homered — his third bomb in this series — so maybe a complete change of speed would get better results. But here’s the problem: You position outfielders based on a pitcher’s fastball because it’s the most common pitch thrown. Nobody is going to position outfielders to defend a 67-mph pitch thrown once a game. Hang it, and if the hitter bangs it, no one will be there to catch it.

That’s what happened to Guthrie’s Eephus pitch.

It hung, Santana whacked it and it rattled down into the right field corner for a double. There was one out at the time and if Santana ran a little better it might have been a triple. And if it had been a triple, hanging an Eephus pitch would have cost Guthrie a run. Chris Dickerson hit a one-out fly ball to left field five pitches later.

Butler goes back-to-back

Yesterday, I said Billy Butler might get drilled for standing and watching his Thursday night home run. Turns out the Indians would have been better off hitting Billy than letting Billy hit them. This time it was a 433-foot shot that landed at the foot of the Hall of Fame building in left field. If I could hit a ball that far, I’d probably stand and watch it, too.

Butler’s bomb gave the Royals a two-run lead, and they never gave it back.

Why Guthrie got pulled in the sixth—probably

Jeremy was at 105 pitches, had just gotten the No. 9 hitter, Mike Aviles, to fly out for the second out of the inning and was just about to face the top of the order for the fourth time. Assuming I wrote them down right, here are Jeremy Guthrie’s 2014 numbers based on number of plate appearances going into Saturday night’s game:

First time through the order: .265

Second time: .271

Third time: .279

Fourth time: .375

That fourth time kinda jumps out at you, doesn’t it?

Wade Davis pitches three days in a row; how did that affect him?

Thursday night, Wade Davis made an appearance, and it was the first time Wade had ever pitched three days in a row. So I asked Wade what it was like. Did he notice a difference?

Wade said he never looked at the radar gun so he didn’t know whether his velocity was down. (Davis threw 22 pitches and hit 97 mph once. I’ve seen him 98 on numerous occasions, and I seem to remember a couple of 99s thrown in there, as well.)

Davis felt like he still had good life on the ball but said his arm felt tired. That meant his body was getting out in front of his arm. His arm was too tired to catch up, and he was missing on the arm side. Wade said he made an adjustment and got back to where he wanted to be, but it was a good learning experience. Next time, he’ll know that happens and make the adjustment right away.

Why not say they’re unavailable?

Ned Yost would not say Greg Holland and Wade Davis were unavailable for Friday night’s game.

Why not?

It seemed obvious. Both had pitched three days in a row, and it was very unlikely they would get used on the fourth day — but not impossible.

Leave some doubt in the other manager’s mind, and you might get him to make a move based on the possibility that one of those pitchers might throw. If Terry Francona saw Wade Davis stretching and appearing to get ready in the bullpen, the Cleveland manager might make a move earlier than he wanted to. He would  have to grab a lead before Davis came in the game.

It was very unlikely that either the Royals set-up man or closer would throw four days in a row, but why confirm that if you don’t have to?

Doubt can be your ally.