Judging the Royals

Kelvin Herrera, Salvador Perez and the inside pitch to Todd Frazier

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera walked off the field after the three-run 10th inning on Tuesday night.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera walked off the field after the three-run 10th inning on Tuesday night. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Anyone who thinks professional athletes don’t care about losing a game should have to walk into a big-league clubhouse after a team has lost one; especially an extra-innings loss.

On Tuesday night, all you had to do was look at Kelvin Herrera to know losing a game feels lousy.

Right now, Herrera is serving as the Royals closer and after he gave up a three-run home run to Todd Frazier in the 10th inning, the game was pretty much over; the White Sox won 7-5. Afterward, Herrera was very subdued and talked quietly about giving up that home run.

He didn’t think it was a mistake to pitch to Frazier; he faulted his pitch execution. Herrera was trying to run a fastball in on Frazier’s hands and if he got the pitch in, thought he’d get weak contact or a swing-and-miss. But Herrera didn’t get the pitch in; he left it out over the plate and Frazier hit it out of the park.

Why pitch to Frazier?

The Royals rallied to tie the game 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, so Herrera was called in to keep the score right there in the top of the 10th. He got Adam Eaton out and then made the mistake of giving up an 0-2 hit to Jose Abreu.

Then Justin Morneau hit a double and the White Sox had the go-ahead run on third base, a tack-on run on second base and first base open. Frazier came into the game with 30 home runs, but he was also hitting .213 when the game started and had been 0 for 4.

Walk Frazier and Herrera would set up a double play and avoid a guy with home-run power, but then Herrera would have to pitch to switch-hitting Dioner Navarro and lose any wiggle room he had left; he couldn’t afford to walk another batter.

Frazier has struck out over 100 times this season and a punch out would have come in handy, so manager Ned Yost let Herrera face Frazier. Later, Ned would say he didn’t mind the matchup.

One too many first-pitch fastballs

Pitchers are free to shake off catchers, but some pitchers don’t like to do that; they want to focus on execution and trust the catcher to make the right call. But Salvador Perez can fall into predictable patterns and the 10th inning provided a perfect example.

Adam Eaton got a first-pitch fastball, Jose Abreu got a first-pitch fastball and Justin Morneau got a first-pitch fastball; so if you’re Todd Frazier, what are you looking for?

Frazier got his first-pitch fastball and jumped all over it.

Don’t pitch inside late

Pitching 101 says you don’t pitch inside in the ninth inning or later. Late in the game hitters are looking to pull the ball and end it with one swing; especially a guy with 30 home runs.

So late in a game, when you don’t have any time to make up for a single run, you pitch batters away. Make them beat you with three singles to the opposite field, not one home run hit to the pull side of the field. And yet all three hitters — Abreu, Morneau and Frazier — pulled the ball.

Now if you’re thinking I’ve already written about this, you’re right; I wrote about avoiding pitching inside late after Joakim Soria tried to go in on Jarrod Saltalamacchia and allowed Salty to hit a walk-off home run for the Detroit Tigers.

All teams make mistakes, but the Royals can’t afford to keep making the same ones over and over again. This season they don’t have enough talent to make a mistake and then cover it with outstanding play.

The Royals have a thin margin of error and have to do things right, and one of the things they need to avoid is pitching inside to a power hitter late in a ballgame. Otherwise, you’re going to have stand in front of your locker and talk about it, while a bunch of reporters who would rather not be there ask questions.

Ask any big-league ballplayer; losing stinks.

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