Judging the Royals

Why the Minnesota Twins’ Phil Hughes got hit in the sixth inning

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes receives a visit from catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) in the second inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Kansas City Royals on July 30, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes receives a visit from catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) in the second inning during Wednesday's baseball game against the Kansas City Royals on July 30, 2014, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes pitched five innings, gave up three hits and no runs. In the sixth inning, Hughes gave up four hits — three of them doubles — and three runs. So what happened? How could a pitcher be so dominant for five innings, then get whacked all over the yard in the sixth?

Probably because it was the third time through the order.

After the game, Mike Moustakas said Hughes wasn’t really doing anything different that third trip thorough the batting order. The Royals hitters had just seen enough pitches to adjust. Everybody had seen Hughes’ fastball, cutter and curve, so there weren’t many surprises left in the sixth inning.

Everyone reads the scouting reports and everyone watches video, but nobody — including the guy throwing the ball — knows exactly what a pitcher will have on any given night. He might have a couple more miles per hour on the fastball or be a couple miles per hours short. He might have great bite on his slider, or maybe his slider is flattening out that night. Moustakas said once hitters see enough pitches, they understand what a pitcher has that particular night and how he’s trying to use it.

In the sixth inning, with the Royals down 1-0, Omar Infante led off with a single, Eric Hosmer popped out and then Salvador Perez doubled to tie the game. After Sal’s double, Alex Gordon hit another two-bagger, and Perez crossed the plate and the Royals took a 2-1 lead. Billy Butler grounded out, then Moustakas drove in the third run of the inning — the run that eventually won the game — with yet another double.

That was it. Those three sixth-inning runs were all that the Royals scored, but they probably scored them because it was the third time through the order.

Why six walks is a good sign for Danny Duffy

Actually, giving up six walks isn’t a good sign for Danny Duffy, but his reaction to giving up those six walks is that he didn’t panic and start overthrowing. He kept his composure, pitched around those walks and wound up allowing only one run in five and two-thirds innings.

How Danny Duffy helped Salvador Perez pick off Eduardo Nunez

In the third inning, Royals catcher Perez picked off the Twins' base-runner, Eduardo Nunez. The Minnesota shortstop was on first base at the time, and the reason Perez was able to pick him off was the pitch he had to work with.

Switch-hitting Danny Santana was at the plate, hitting from the right side. The pitch from Duffy was outside, and that took Perez in the right direction. Catching the ball backhand also closed up Sal’s front shoulder and put him in good throwing position.

Sal still had to make the throw — and he did — but Duffy’s pitch gave him a head start.

Hughes forgets to do his job

It wound up not mattering, but when Perez doubled in the sixth inning, Infante scored from first. Shortstop Eduardo Nunez acted as the Twins' relay man and threw the ball home, but he airmailed the throw. The ball went to the backstop because Hughes forgot to back up home plate.

That allowed Perez to advance to third base while Minnesota catcher Kurt Suzuki had to go chase the ball, and that gave the Royals a runner on third base with one out. Alex Gordon doubled, so Sal would have scored anyway, but if Gordon had hit a sac fly and that was the run that won the game, it would be a much bigger deal.

Unless you can predict the future, back up home plate.

Kelvin Herrera in the seventh

After giving up two singles in the seventh inning, Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera got an out on a sacrifice bunt and then punched out the next two hitters. Herrera ended the night with a 1.76 ERA, and if he can keep pitching like that, the Royals' bullpen gets even tougher. Eighth-inning set-up man Wade Davis has a ridiculous 0.99 ERA, and closer Greg Holland’s ERA is 1.82.

If Herrera can dominate the seventh, opposing teams would need to grab a lead in the first six innings. Otherwise, they might never have a lead at all.

How Hosmer slows down base-runners

In the eighth inning, Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe hit a groundball to Alcides Escobar, and the Royals shortstop threw him out at first base. The notable thing about the play was first baseman Eric Hosmer’s move as he caught the ball. If you’ve been watching the Royals all season, you have seen Eric come across the bag into foul territory to make a catch.

Sometimes Hosmer does it to create a better hop on a bounced throw, but sometimes he does it to slow down the base-runner.

If a guy is running down the line and sees the first baseman move into foul territory, he tends to slow up. The throw is coming in head-high, and instead of the first baseman being between the ball and the runner, the runner is now between the ball and the first baseman.

That makes runners uncomfortable. The first baseman no longer is protecting the runner from getting hit by the throw, so the runner slows up and takes a look to his left — and that might be just enough to get an out on a bang-bang play.

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