On Saturday night Yordano Ventura pitched six innings, but walked six batters. Despite averaging a walk per inning Eric Hosmer called it a very smart outing and here’s why:
Not all walks are bad: it’s who you walk and when you walk them.
Five of the six walks were issued to the 3-4-5 hitters in the Detroit Tigers order; Miguel Cabrera was walked once, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez walked twice each. But if Ventura was determined to work around these three hitters, why didn’t he walk them every time they came to the plate?
Funny you should ask.
When a pitcher faces a dangerous hitter he might start the at bat by throwing a pitcher’s pitch; a borderline pitch at the edge of the strike zone. If the batter spits on it and the pitcher gets the call for strike one, the pitcher is in business. With the count 0-1 the pitcher can try to make another pitcher’s pitch; if the pitcher gets ahead in the count the hitter will then be forced to swing at marginal pitches.
But if the pitcher doesn’t get the call on that first pitch, he doesn’t “give in” to the dangerous hitter. When a pitcher falls behind in the count and throws a hittable fastball to get back in the count that’s called “giving in” and Saturday night Ventura didn’t do that.
If Ventura fell behind in the count to Cabrera, Martinez & Martinez (which sounds like a very reputable Miami law firm) he refused to give in; he never threw those hitters a 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1 fastball down the pipe. He’d either throw an off-speed pitch for a strike or a fastball out of the zone. If he walked them, he walked them and then Ventura would go after the next hitter.
Ventura did not fall behind in the count and try to pump a fastball past a dangerous hitter looking for a fastball.
And that’s what made it a smart outing.
But sometimes working around a hitter doesn’t work
Now let’s go back to Friday night for a look at what can go wrong when working around a dangerous hitter.
In the ninth inning Wade Davis had nobody out, the tying run on third, the go-ahead on second and Cabrera at the plate. To start the Cabrera at bat, Davis made what should have been a pitcher’s pitch; a curveball down and in.
Cabrera hit that curve for a single and both runs scored.
It appeared Davis was not particularly sharp that night; he drilled Ian Kinsler with a first-pitch fastball and left a 2-2 cutter toward the middle of the zone with Jose Iglesias at the plate. Iglesias doubled, so first base was open when Cabrera came to the plate.
When a pitcher isn’t hitting his spots working around a hitter might not be the best idea; don’t mess around and make a mistake, just go ahead and issue an intentional walk.
That would have loaded the bases with nobody out, but Cabrera hits .350 against Davis and Victor Martinez hits .208. The next hitter, J.D. Martinez hits .250. If the inning had gotten all the way to Justin Upton he’s 2 for 5 off Davis, but at least you made someone other than Cabrera beat you.
And Alcides Escobar was out of position
Let’s stay with that same ninth inning for a moment; after Davis hit Kinsler with a pitch, Alcides Escobar was positioned for a double play — in on the dirt, close enough to second base to turn two.
Iglesias hit the ball past Escobar — later we were told it was a rocket — but off the bat it looked like Escobar would make the play; it was just to his right. But Escobar was slow to react and the ball got past him.
So with runners at second and third Escobar should have been back at the edge of the grass, but he stayed at double-play depth.
If the Royals wanted to cut the run down at the plate all the infielders would have been in; at the edge of the grass. But Whit Merrifield was back at second base and Cheslor Cuthbert was playing just behind third.
Escobar was in no-man’s land.
Not in enough to cut down the runner at home plate; not back enough to make the play on Cabrera’s grounder. If Cabrera hadn’t swung at the first pitch maybe someone would have noticed where Escobar was standing and repositioned him, but that didn’t happen.
The winning run scored because Escobar was out of position and it wasn’t the only mistake Escobar made. Earlier in the game the Royals gave up a hit because Danny Duffy was late covering first base, but Eric Hosmer originally wanted to go to second on that play and Escobar forgot to cover.
Right now the Royals don’t have the luxury of making these kinds of fundamental mistakes.