Games » Los Angeles AngelsMar31
The Royals lost 4-2, but were in it the entire way. They managed to bring the tying or winning run to the plate in the 7th, 8th and 9th, but couldn’t come up with the big hit.
One of the game’s key moments happened in the first inning when Luke Hochevar threw 26 pitches. Right away that put him off the 15-pitch-per-inning average managers like to see. So instead of being able to throw seven innings (which would come out to 105 pitches at 15 pitches per inning), Luke threw 102 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. Ned Yost then had to go the bullpen early.
The Royals were behind so Ned decided to get some rookie pitchers their first experience on a big league mound. (If the Royals had been ahead, he likely would’ve gone to more experienced relievers.) Aaron Crow, Nate Adcock and Tim Collins threw 3 1/3 innings of shutout ball (although Adcock got some help from his defense).
When I asked new catcher Matt Treanor how he thought the kids threw he gave me a blank look and said, “Give me some names.” (Matt just got here and is still figuring out who’s who.) He thought they all threw well, but was especially impressed with Aaron Crow.
He also thought Hochevar threw well. Luke gave up two bombs (one on a fastball that missed out over the plate and another on a hanging breaking ball), but he continued to throw strikes. Fans (and coaches) can’t have it both ways: if a pitcher’s going to throw 102 pitches they won’t all be perfect and some of them are going to get whacked. The idea is to make sure you don’t walk two guys before a pitch gets whacked.
When you hear someone talking about ‘limiting the damage’ that’s what they mean.
Play at the plate
Jeff Francoeur (I’ll be checking the spelling on that name for the first month - Jeff’s so hard to spell) threw a runner out at the plate to end the 8th and saved Adcock a run. Everyone gives the outfielder who throws the ball a lot of credit (and they should), but what about the guy that catches the ball? He knows he’s going to get slammed like a receiver going over the middle. John Gibbons once pointed out how difficult the play can be. You just don’t see it that often.
Treanor said he was out in front of the plate, but knew the throw was going to pull him into the runner. He said he caught the ball then held the mitt closed with his free hand. I asked if he ever tried to deliver a blow to the runner, but he said he mainly tries to ‘get small’ (Hey, a Steve Martin fan!) and roll with the punch. I’m guessing the hardest part of the play is maintaining concentration knowing someone about to loosen your molars.
OK, part of the formula this year is playing better defense (the Royals led the league in errors last year). So what happened?
Three pretty tough errors: Mike Aviles got a hot shot to his right that he tried to backhand and the ball didn’t stick, Luke Hochevar tried to make a great play on a bunt single (I thought maybe he should eat the ball, but Ned Yost said that was a play that has to be attempted in the big leagues, and I’d trust Ned more than me) and Chris Getz got a tough error after fielding Hoch’s wild throw and trying to get the runner who rounded first and was heading for second.
The runner (I think it was Peter Bourjos) did the right thing: when he saw Alcides Escobar (or whoever was covering - give me a break, I’m still getting up to game speed) hold up his glove to receive the throw, he ran at the glove. Runners are taught to do that in hopes of blocking the throw and it worked. The ball hit Bourjos in the back and continued into left and Bourjos continued on to third. So Getz hustled, made a heads-up play and a good throw and got an error for his efforts.
Not an error, he wasn’t close enough
If you were watching the game you saw a pop-up land untouched a few feet from Mike Aviles. Here’s what happened: all pop-ups are curve balls. Think about it. The bottom of the ball has barely been clipped, but the swing puts tremendous spin on the ball. If you’re directly underneath a pop up at its highest point, you’re in trouble. The ball will curve back towards the pitcher’s mound on the way down (it’s called “infield drift” and it’s information we all could’ve used in little league).
So, Mike went to the third base side railing and leaned into foul territory, waiting for the ball to drift back to him. Good plan except this ball not only drifted back toward fair territory, but also back toward home plate (Mike thought it was the wind that affected the ball, but I’m going with demonic possession). Mike got caught with his weight going the wrong way and the ball fell untouched.
Mike thinks the ball should’ve been caught, but he also thinks this play is harder than people who have never attempted it think. I have attempted it (the ball landed in a different zip code than the one I was standing in) and I agree.
Wednesday I went to the Royals pre-Opening Day workout and here are a few notes. (I didn’t plan on writing these, but in the process of hanging around, I heard some good stuff so I figured why not use it?)
Said hi to Kanekoa Texeira and told him he had me worried. He was one of the last guys named to the roster. I told him I was glad he was back because I didn’t want to have to get to know a whole bunch of new guys. He said, “Me neither.” Fans think about getting traded or sent down in baseball terms, but it’s really a hassle on a personal level, too. Imagine getting fired and having to move on the same day. He told me he was going to mix a slider in more this year (along with his sinker) and his primary job is to come in before Tejeda and Soria when the team needs a groundball.
Told Chris Getz he was killing me. We decided to drop two of the system’s categories because I never used them in 162 games last season. One of them was “failure to slide.” So guess who failed to slide in a spring training game I was scoring on Monday?
“You saw that? Oh, that’s right, you watch every game.” Chris explained that the throw was high (it had more hang time than the Hindenburg) so he thought he’d make it easily and then Craig Counsell “deked” him: pretending no throw is coming when there is or vice versa. I told him the bad news was the other category I dropped was “picked off third” so I assumed that would happen to him also. He said I should’ve told him that so he could take care of it in spring training. Having a player do something embarrassing in a noncritical situation isn’t the worst thing in the world: it reminds him to play the game right. So watch and see if Getz learned the lesson (I’m betting he did, he’s a very smart ballplayer, which means I saw him reading a book once).
Groundskeeper Trevor Vance said the field is in good shape (some off seasons are better for the grass than others). The biggest change you’ll notice on Opening Day is the Royals bullpen is now in left field. There are several reasons for this: right field gets more sun so the bullpen’s hotter, the relievers have to contend with all the parades, groundskeepers, etc. that have to enter the field through their pen and the Royals bench can actually see the left field pen better.
I personally thought it was a bad move. Left field has nowhere to hide. There’s a bathroom and a utility room out there, but in right the relievers could wander under the stands out of sight. I’ve heard stories (from years ago) of grills being set up out there, hot dogs were cooked and one reliever was prone to wearing a chef’s hat and apron during the game. One bullpen (in another city) had a TV and a VCR and the relievers watched movies. (All this takes place early in the game; after the 5th inning things get a bit more serious.)
Trevor told me in Quisenberry’s day the relievers would hid a $100 bill somewhere in the bullpen while the grounds crew was manicuring the field during the middle of the game. That would set off a mad scramble when the crew got back to the bullpen. (No wonder they’d run off the field so fast. I’d kill a hobo for that amount of money. OK, maybe I wouldn’t kill him, but I wouldn’t hesitate to give him a severe wedgie.) One more thing: When your pranks involve hundred dollar bills, you’re making too much money.
Trevor also said the grounds crew was looking forward to mingling with the visiting relievers just to have someone new to talk to. It’s a long season.
Gave Jeff Francoeur a message from mutual friend, Clint Hurdle. “RCF is the bulls eye.” Clint’s managing Pittsburgh now, but last year he was Jeff’s hitting coach. ‘RCF’ is ‘Right Center Field’. Hitting coaches often tell right handed hitters to focus on hitting the ball that way (left center field for the lefties). It makes them stay on the ball (not pull their head off) and a hitter looking away can pull his hands towards his body and adjust in, but a hitter looking in cannot adjust away. (Try it, you’ll see.)
I told Jeff I was a little reluctant to pass on the message since he was hot right now. (You don’t mess with someone going good in an effort to make them go better. It’s usually a disaster.) Francoeur said an adjustment he made with his hands was responsible for his improved results.
Many sports motions (throwing a ball, shooting a basket, delivering a punch) start with a backwards motion. This loads up energy like a coiled spring. When Jeff was taking his hands back, he was taking them too far back, which was turning his front shoulder. When the hands get behind the body it’s called “wrapping” and the hitter will be late. He’s got too much to do to get back to the ball.
Jeff showed mes a smaller backwards motion that kept his hands free and maintained a clear path to the ball. (You should be able to watch for this on TV.) It’s only one of about 5 billion things that can go wrong with a swing, but it’s the one Francoeur’s working on right now.
What I heard from the guys who were there during spring training: the Royals should be better defensively (Getz needs to hit or they have to start moving people around), team speed has improved (they’re working on base running to get more out of all those singles; watch for them going first to third and second to home), the bullpen looks good, but the major worry is the starting pitching.