Judging the Royals

The Royals’ pitching and Ned Yost’s decision-making

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura had an interesting line Sunday, including four strikeouts and four walks.
Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura had an interesting line Sunday, including four strikeouts and four walks. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Whenever anyone tells me they find baseball boring, I say there’s so much going on that I have a hard time figuring out what to watch. To make my point, let’s focus on just one aspect of the Royals’ 7-1 win over the Blue Jays; the Royals’ pitching and the decisions Ned Yost had to make about that pitching.

Let’s start at the beginning.

If a Royals starting pitcher works more than six innings, the team is 24-10; if the starting pitcher works six innings exactly, the Royals are 12-12; and if the starter works less than six innings, the Royals are 17-36.

It’s pretty simple: If a starting pitcher is pitching well, he stays in the game ... and by staying in the game, he takes pressure off the bullpen. If a starter leaves early, it’s probably because he’s pitching poorly ... and by leaving early, he puts more pressure on the ’pen. More innings have to be covered by relievers, and if you’re short on relievers who are throwing well, things can get out of hand.

On Sunday, the Royals had only one shutdown reliever in the ’pen — Kelvin Herrera — and because he’d worked two days in a row, he wasn’t available. So Ned needed starting pitcher Yordano Ventura to go deep in the game.

Ventura’s walks and why he walked them

Ventura did throw well, but four walks and four strikeouts bumped up his pitch count. Fans love strikeouts, and fanning someone at the right time can certainly come in handy. But strikeouts take a lot of pitches. Ventura knew he needed to pitch to contact and get some easy outs and that’s one of the reasons he only struck out four batters.

So why the four walks?

There’s usually a pretty decent reason behind what we see on a baseball field, and Ventura’s walks were no exception. Yordano issued walks to Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. All three guys hit him well; all three guys have power.

That doesn’t mean Ventura wasn’t going to throw them strikes, but it did mean he’d try to hit corners. And if he missed those corners, he didn’t mind walking those guys. Ventura would not give in and throw them a fastball down the pipe. Better to walk those hitters than let them hit the ball out of the park. It’s not just how many walks you allow, it’s who you walk and when you walk them.

So what about the fourth walk, to Darwin Barney?

That walk was probably unintentional; Ventura got two outs and then probably lost focus (a lot of pitchers do this; they breathe a sigh of relief and then let someone they should dominate off the hook).

After a Devon Travis single, Barney was on third and Jose Bautista was at the plate. That’s when Ned brought in Peter Moylan.

Peter Moylan and right-handed hitters

At the time, the score was 3-0 Royals, so with two runners on base Bautista represented the tying run. Coming into the game, Bautista was 4-for-10 off Ventura and two of those hits were home runs.

On Sunday, Bautista continued to hit Ventura well; he’d already singled, walked and lined out. Ned wanted to avoid letting Bautista face Ventura for a fourth time with the game on the line.

The Blue Jays have a predominantly right-handed lineup, so Ned wanted a right-handed reliever in the game. As mentioned above, Herrera was unavailable (and Ned wouldn’t have used his closer in the seventh anyway), Joakim Soria was going to pitch the ninth if the Royals got there with a lead, so that left Chris Young, Chien-Ming Wang and Peter Moylan.

Moylan slings the ball from an arm angle that makes things tough on right-handed hitters and he’d already struck out Bautista on Friday, so — bingo — Moylan got the call.

Moylan threw a slider in the dirt and allowed the runner on third to score, but then once again struck out Bautista to end the inning and the threat. The Royals went into the bottom of the seventh with a two-run lead.

Morales’ grand slam changes the Royals’ pitching

Soria was scheduled to pitch the ninth, so Ned had to get the Royals through the eighth inning with a lead intact; Chris Young was a good candidate to make that happen.

As a team, the Jays had hit .233 off Young, and if he got through right-handed hitters Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion, Ned had lefties Matt Strahm and Brian Flynn available to pitch to left-handed Michael Saunders. On the other hand, if Ned liked what he saw from Young, he might just leave him in to face Saunders and finish the eighth.

But in the bottom of the seventh inning, Kendrys Morales hit a grand slam and that changed everything.

Young took the mound in the eighth inning with a 7-1 lead and went 1-2-3. Young looked good so he was sent out to finish the game, and that’s just what he did.

If you don’t care about the details, I still got you covered

OK, we just ran through one aspect of Sunday’s game — the Royals’ pitching — and as you can see, a lot goes into it. But the truth is not everybody cares about the game in this way; they like baseball, but don’t really want to hear about all the details. Some fans just want to enjoy a beer, the highlights and anything weird that happens.

To those fans here’s what I have to say:

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how I used LaMar’s doughnuts to bribe my way into Toronto manager John Gibbons’ office — it’s a pretty funny story.

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