The Royals’ Kendrys Morales hit .226 in April and .163 in May. Most of his problems came from the left side of the plate. Teams would overload the right side of the field with a defensive shift and then throw Morales off-speed pitches and fastballs away.
Morales would pull those off-speed pitches into the shift and if he insisted on also pulling those fastballs away, he couldn’t hit them with much authority. Smart teams tried to avoid giving Morales hittable fastballs on the inner half.
But Morales hit .402 in June — so what changed?
Let’s start with hitting mechanics and here’s the short version: Morales started doing a better job of getting his weight back at the start of his swing and that gave him a better back-to-front weight shift, and that allowed him to stay on the ball and start hitting those fastballs away to left field with authority.
So a left-handed Kendrys Morales that will hit a fastball away to the poorly defended left side of the field complicates the pitcher’s job. Opposing teams can’t just shift everyone but the batboy to the right side and throw Morales any pitch they like.
Enter Phillies reliever David Hernandez.
Hernandez throws his fastball 63.7 percent of the time, his curve 34.2 percent and a changeup 2.0 percent of the time. When a pitcher throws a pitch 2 percent of the time hitters ignore it; why worry about a pitch you’ll only see twice in 100 pitches?
So Morales was likely to see a fastball or curve and smart money was on the fastball.
The Phillies had their third baseman well off the line, so if Hernandez threw a fastball away and Morales hit it down that left-field line (something he’s now shown he’s willing to do), the runner on first — Whit Merrifield — had a chance of scoring.
So Hernandez threw Morales a fastball in — a pitch teams were avoiding when Morales was scuffling — and Morales put that inside fastball outside of the playing field. A two-run homer to right field from the left side of the plate.
If Morales will hit fastballs away to left field, he will see more fastballs in — and that’s good for the Royals, bad for everybody else and one reason Kendrys Morales is hitting better from the left side of the plate.
But Morales got exposed in right field
When teams have to play somebody out of position they usually will assure the media that the player can handle it. They will say the guy played there in high school, or did it a couple times in the minors and then pray nobody hits a tough one to the player they’re running out there.
But if you spend enough time out of position, you eventually will get exposed, and that happened to Kendrys Morales in right field Friday night.
Fly balls do not always fly in a straight line. They hook and slice depending on how they were hit and what the wind is doing. Morales overran a fly ball toward the right-field line and when it came back toward fair territory, the Royals’ out-of-position right fielder had to make a U-turn and a desperation dive.
It didn’t work, and the ball landed on the warning track and bounced into the stands. A ground-rule double on a ball that should have been caught.
Even so, it’s hard to pull the hottest hitter in the Royals lineup. And you want him to stay hot. Sit Morales down, and he might cool off. So if the Royals continue to run Morales out there, cross your fingers when the ball gets hit in his direction.
I’m pretty sure Ned Yost will be doing the same thing.