Judging the Royals

The Ryan Raburn play wasn't as bad as it looked

Cleveland Indians designated hitter Ryan Raburn (9) misses a double by Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas in the eighth inning before Moustakas scored on an error during Thursday's baseball game on July 24, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Cleveland Indians designated hitter Ryan Raburn (9) misses a double by Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas in the eighth inning before Moustakas scored on an error during Thursday's baseball game on July 24, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

If you’re a baseball fan you’ve probably already seen it. Cleveland outfielder Ryan Raburn spiking a ball into the ground on a throw from left field. Raburn’s throw allowed Mike Moustakas to circle the bases and that eventually sent the game to extra innings where the Royals beat the Indians 2-1 on Thursday night.

The play was especially costly because pitcher Corey Kluber was pitching lights out. The ball Moustakas hit came in the seventh inning, and it was only the second hit Kluber had surrendered up to that point. The play made highlight reels all over the country, and people talked about not seeing such a bad throw outside of a kid’s T-ball game.

Ryan Raburn has had to wear it.

What hasn’t gotten as much publicity is why Raburn spiked the ball. The Indians were in an extreme shift against the left-handed Moustakas. When Mike hit the ball down the left-field line and the ball dropped for a double, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall had to race back to third — and he was a long way away.

Meanwhile, Raburn was busy picking up the ball by the left-field wall. When he turned to throw the ball back to the infield, nobody was covering third base. Here’s what Cleveland manager Terry Francona had to say about the play:

"Ray made a really good effort. Because we were shifting, the third baseman (Chisenhall) was sprinting back to third. So when Ray came up to throw, he tried to hold up, and the ball came out of his hand. It's fluky and it cost us a run, but it was just a bunch of guys trying hard to get in the right place."

It might be funny to talk about a big-leaguer making one of the worst throws any baseball fan has ever seen, but it isn’t accurate.

The Ryan Raburn play wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Bruce Chen and the put-away pitch

The first at bat of Sunday’s game was indicative. Royals starting pitcher Bruce Chen had Indians lead-off hitter Jose Ramirez 0-2 but had to throw 11 more pitches before getting Ramirez to hit a fly ball to right field. Once he had two strikes, Ramirez was still able to foul off eight pitches to keep his at bat alive.

Once a pitcher gets two strikes on a hitter, he often will break out his put-away pitch. It usually is something nasty — a splitter or slider — that hitters in a two-strike count are forced to try to cover. If a pitcher doesn’t have a put-away pitch, at-bats might go on and on.

On Sunday, it appeared Chen had no put-away pitch.

By my count, Bruce got 13 Cleveland hitters into two-strike counts but only struck out one of them. He also gave up eight hits, and four of them came with two-strikes. After the game, Chen said he could get hitters into two-strike counts but couldn’t finish them off. "it was just one of those days," he said.

The Royals lost this one to the Cleveland Indians 10-3.

How Chen picks off runners

It’s not much of a bright spot, but here it is anyway. In the third inning, Bruce Chen picked off Mike Aviles — the 45th pickoff of his career. In the clubhouse afterward, I asked Bruce if he was so successful picking off runners because he’s a "reader."

A reader is a left-handed pitcher who can pick up his front foot, hang there and read the runners intentions. If the runner breaks for second, the pitcher throws to first. If the runner stays put, the pitcher goes home.

It turns out Bruce has several options when he delivers a pitch with a runner on first base. He can hang and read, he can commit to home and slide step or he can commit to going over to first base. Mix in all his pitches and all the different arm angles he uses to deliver them, and you can see that this stuff gets complicated.

Bruce said bench coach Don Wakamatsu helps out. Don points out which runners are likely to attempt a steal and those are the runners that see the hang move.

What’s different about Danny Duffy?

Saturday night, Danny Duffy sat by his locker as Billy Butler talked to the media on the other side of the clubhouse. Butler had hit yet another tape-measure bomb to win a ballgame — his second in two nights — and everyone wanted to hear about it.

I wanted to hear from Danny.

Specifically, I wanted to know what was different about this year. Had something clicked into place for him? The short answer was yes, and it’s something you hear all the time. Danny Duffy has figured out you can’t do more than you can do.

If that sounds a bit like New Age "be the ball" kind of stuff, that’s because it is — and it’s also true.

In the past, Danny would get to a big spot in the game and overthrow. He would want to throw the fastball that much harder or make the breaking pitch that much nastier — and that’s when his game would fall apart. The fastball would flatten out, the breaking pitch would hang and — bang — Duffy was in trouble.

Now he knows he can’t do that. Trying to be better than you are is a good way to fail. Be who you are, embrace the stuff you have, trust your defense and make a pitch. There’s a baseball saying that goes like this: "Perfect is the enemy of good."

Try to be perfect, throw the hardest fastball ever, strike every batter out and you probably won’t be good. But accept who you are — and who you aren’t — be good long enough and people will say you were great.

Why managers can’t pull starting pitchers too soon

When the weather’s nice, we have the windows open in the press box, and we can hear the crowd. And Saturday night we heard the crowd yelling at Ned Yost to pull Jeremy Guthrie. The Royals starting pitcher was in the middle of a 46-pitch, six hit, five-run second inning, and the crowd didn’t want to see any more. They wanted Guthrie out of the game.

But the crowd hasn’t managed a bullpen.

The manager can see what the crowd sees — a pitcher get whacked around the yard — but if a manager pulls his starting pitcher too soon he’s going to chew up a lot of bullpen innings. That can turn one loss into two if he doesn’t have the relievers he needs in a more winnable game the next day. Pull the starter early — it does happen — and the manager is going to give the ball to a long reliever and hope for the best.

On Saturday night, Yost trusted Guthrie to make an adjustment and he did. Jeremy pitched into the sixth inning without giving up another run. That got the ball to lefty specialist Scott Downs, and Downs got the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

When a starting pitcher gets hit hard in the early innings, a manager has to manage with his head, not his heart — and he can’t listen to the crowd.