Judging the Royals

Is Royals reliever Joakim Soria throwing good pitches? Hitters are telling him no

The Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier celebrated with Brad Miller after scoring on Miller’s three-run homer off Kansas City Royals reliever Joakim Soria on Thursday.
The Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier celebrated with Brad Miller after scoring on Miller’s three-run homer off Kansas City Royals reliever Joakim Soria on Thursday. The Associated Press

Royals reliever Joakim Soria entered the Thursday’s game at Tampa Bay in the eighth inning; the Royals were leading the Rays 2-0. Two pitches into the inning, Logan Forsythe singled and that brought the tying run to the plate.

Forsythe’s run did not matter — if he scored, the Royals would still have a one-run lead. The guy that mattered was standing at the plate: Kevin Kiermaier, the tying run.

Soria walked Kiermaier on five pitches.

That meant a home run would give the Rays the lead and, after Soria struck out Evan Longoria, that’s just what happened. Brad Miller hit a 1-1 change-up out of the park and the Rays took the lead and won 3-2.

Everyone is going to focus on that home run, but don’t forget the walk that made the home run a game-winner.

It was not a good pitch

After the game Soria claimed the home run was hit on a good pitch, and it’s not the first time he’s done this.

Pitchers have a saying: “The hitters will tell you what you need to know.” If you give up a broken-bat bloop that lands just beyond the infield, feel free to claim it was a good pitch. If you give up a home run, the hitter just told you it wasn’t a good pitch.

The bullpen

After this latest calamity, Royals manager Ned Yost was asked about Soria’s spot in the pen; would he be used differently in the future? Ned responded that the bullpen was very thin right now and taking Soria out of the mix was going to be difficult.

But because lockdown relievers are currently in short supply, it would seem the Royals need to play the matchup game more often. Miller bats from the left side and based on days off, it appeared lefty Brian Flynn was available to face him. (If that’s wrong or there was a good reason to not bring Flynn into the game, I’m sure someone will let me know, and if that happens I’ll let you know.)

But the point remains: if a reliever is a lockdown guy, you can give him an inning and let him face any hitter that comes to the plate. If the reliever doesn’t have that kind of stuff, you need to look for favorable matchups and use more than one reliever to get through an inning.

And the offense isn’t helping

On Wednesday, the Royals had two hits and on Thursday it was four. When the offense doesn’t produce it means the pitching and defense has no margin for error. The Royals missed a chance to put at least one run on the board in the top of the eighth inning and how that happened is instructive.

The Royals had the bases loaded and one down; Salvador Perez was at the plate.

Salvy’s at-bat was crucial; get the ball in play and as long as you don’t hit into a double play you have a good chance of scoring a run. Hit a single and two runs probably score.

But instead of cutting down on his swing and making sure he got the ball in play, it appeared Perez was going for it all; a grand slam. He was pulling his head off the ball and that usually happens when a hitter is trying to turn and burn — looking for a ball to pull. Perez struck out on three pitches and when Alex Gordon did the same thing, the Royals wasted a golden opportunity.

Selective aggression

The Royals have not been hitting a lick lately and I’m sure someone will claim they’re too aggressive at the plate, but unfortunately it’s not that simple; in the big leagues you can’t just stand there and watch good pitches go by — you might not see another one.

Thursday’s game provided a good example; 17 Royals hitters took a called first strike and four of them eventually got hits — that’s a .235 batting average. Nine of those 17 hitters struck out and that’s 53 percent. This season after the Royals are in an 0-1 count they hit .227.

Let a big-league pitcher get ahead of you and there’s a good chance he’ll bury you.

So the answer isn’t letting good pitches go by; the right approach is waiting for a good pitch and not missing it. All too often the Royals are swinging at bad pitches or over-swinging and missing good ones.

A third of the season is still left to play

After the non-waiver trade deadline, Dayton Moore expressed trust in this team and these players. He didn’t sell off any major parts of the team that has gone to two World Series and won the second one. Moore thinks the window of opportunity is still open in 2017.

Before the trade deadline, players were expressing some trepidation; they knew they hadn’t played well and thought they might lose some of their teammates because of that.

Well, that didn’t happen.

The Royals still have 54 games left to play and they can’t afford to mail it in for the next two months. Even if they aren’t going to the playoffs (and that possibility seems extremely remote right now), they still need to play good baseball and reward Dayton Moore’s trust in them.

And it would be good if they could start doing that on Friday night.

The Royals closed out a four-game series at Tropicana Field on Thursday with a 3-2 loss to the Rays. Joakim Soria allowed a three-run homer to Tampa Bay's Brad Miller in the eighth.