Games » Arizona DiamondbacksJun21
Why Ned didn't pull Hochevar
Ned Yost said that he finds the pitching performances of Luke Hochevar puzzling. Good. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
On Tuesday night, Luke did the thing he does so often: dominates long enough to make you think he’s got no-hit stuff and then comes apart. Ned and I aren’t the only ones who are puzzled. Luke’s not sure why it happens, either. Is it fatigue? Is it concentration? Is it pitch sequence or location? Or could it be as simple as hitters getting multiple looks at him and then adjusting?
So if this is a recognizable pattern, why doesn’t Ned go get him as soon as it starts? It’s the same reason Ned let Alcides Escobar continue to go to the plate when everyone was screaming for a pinch hitter: Ned is looking down the road and thinks Hochevar needs to be more than a six-inning pitcher. Luke is getting his chance to figure out how to maintain his early-game excellence, but Ned said the opportunities to pitch deeper into a game won’t keep coming forever.
At some point, the future is now, and Hochevar needs to figure it out by then.
One thing he has figured out
Luke did an interesting thing in the fourth inning to the Diamondbacks’ Kelly Johnson: Luke sped up his windup and caught Johnson off-guard for a strikeout. If there’s a runner on, Hochevar couldn’t do this. It would be a balk, but if the batter has his feet set and the bat in position, Luke shouldn’t get called for a quick pitch (rule 8.01 (b)).
Hochevar starts his delivery with his normal rhythm, then speeds up the last half. I’ve seen him do it only a few times, but it’s there if you look for it.
Gordon goes long
Alex Gordon hit a home run on the first pitch of the game, and afterward I asked him whether he was looking for any pitch in particular. Alex said he had only been hitting leadoff for a while, but every so often he would hack at the first pitch. That keeps the opposition from just laying one in there thinking the lead-off hitter always will take the first pitch. Alex decides when to do it based on past experience or the patterns of certain pitchers. When it’s lefty on lefty, Alex doesn’t want to fall behind on a hittable fastball and then have to deal with breaking stuff. On Tuesday night, he got the fastball he was looking for and parked it.
A single short
Alex completed the hardest parts of hitting for the cycle: home run, double and triple. He lined out in the fifth inning and was on deck when the game ended. I asked Chris Getz how aware the Royals players were that Alex needed a single for the cycle, and Chris said very aware. When Chris came to the plate in the ninth, he considered bunting for a hit just to get Alex to the plate one more time. But Chris said that with the Royals down 7-2, that might have gotten something started with the Diamondbacks that neither team needed.
(One of those unwritten rules: You don’t bunt for a hit when you’re down by a lot. Why? I don’t know. You need runners, but if it’s going to set something off with the other team, it may not be worth it.)
Chris did have an interesting point, though. The Arizona third baseman was playing in. If bunting was inappropriate, why were the Diamondbacks defending against it? Veteran ballplayers will look for cues from the other team. If we’re up by a lot and shouldn’t steal, but your pitcher keeps throwing over, you must think a steal is the right move. So we’re going. Chris said the first baseman was playing back, and he might have had a shot, but Chris decided against it. That’s the problem with unwritten rules: No one is exactly sure what they are.
It’s me, not you
I asked Eric Hosmer whether he was getting different pitches now. He started hot, and traditionally pitchers want to see whether you can hit a big-league fastball. That’s why you see so many guys have a great first trip around the league and cool down after that. The process of adjusting to hitters has been sped up considerably by video. Pitchers no longer have to see you in person to know what you can do.
Eric said that his current problem was anxiety to perform. He feels he’s pressing a bit, and pitchers recognize this. I asked him whether pitchers would then give him marginal pitches and see whether he will chase. Eric said “definitely,” but at least he knows he’s doing it. So maybe an adjustment isn’t too far away.
Speaking of adjustments …
Ned Yost said he’s been pondering lineup changes but hasn’t reached a decision. Ned was asked about Jeff Francoeur, and Ned threw out the stat you guys read last week: Frenchy leads the team in hard-hit outs. Even so, sometimes you change things just to give hitters a fresh start. It may be a phony mental thing. (Mike Aviles used to change his batting gloves any time he went hitless. Clearly the gloves were faulty. With a new pair, he was good to go.) Same with a change in the lineup. I’ve seen it work too often to dismiss the idea.
Ned is thinking of moving Escobar up and Melky Cabrera down to an RBI position.
He doesn’t know either
I asked Alex Gordon about getting hit by a pitch Sunday, “You sounded as confused as anyone.” Alex, Royals broadcaster Joel Goldberg and I spent the next 10 minutes trying to decipher what was going through Cardinals manager Tony La Russa’s mind, and we never quite figured it out. All I can say is if you’re sending a message, it’s not too effective if nobody can figure out what the message is. We’re the Cardinals, and you’re not?
I’m not predicting anything, but ballplayers have long memories. Keep that in mind if you see a Royals pitcher drill a Cardinal batter next season.
Don’t call before noon
That’s the rule with professional ballplayers. And if they had a late flight the night before, you can move that deadline back. When you leave the park and head for home, ballplayers are just getting off work. They have a lot of adrenaline built up, and it’s almost impossible to go right to sleep. So they go out to dinner, have a beer, whatever, until they can wind down and get to bed.
So a talk-radio guy who called the team’s St. Louis hotel at 10 a.m. Saturday and asked for Eric Hosmer had no shot. Stunts like this (the guy’s trying to get attention by waking up a sleepy ballplayer and doing an ambush interview) are why pro athletes have to put up some kind of wall between them and the public. If they don’t, someone will abuse the privilege.
And that reminds me: Pretty soon I’m going to write about the correct way to ask for an autograph. I see a lot of fans ask at inappropriate times and then get upset when the ballplayer doesn’t sign. Asking at an appropriate time in an appropriate way doesn’t guarantee a ballplayer sign, but it improves your chances.
At last: dinner with a cartoon character
(If you want to believe that mascots are real, stop reading now.) I almost forgot this one: On the last road trip, I had dinner one night in the St. Louis media dining room with the Cardinals mascot Fredbird and his handler. It turns out there are two Fredbirds at every game. (I have no idea whether the same is true of Sluggerrr … and is that right number of r’s?). The Fredbird costume is too damn hot to stand for long, so one guy goes for two innings while the other guy rests.
They each need handlers to get through the crowds. The mascots are supposed to be at assigned places at assigned times, and they’ constantly are getting stopped to pose for pictures and sign autographs. The handler plays the bad guy and moves the mascot along and acts as a seeing-eye dog because those costumes make it hard for the man inside to see. I wanted to make fun of a guy who handles cartoon characters, but that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years.
What Ned saw
Everybody else saw the results Alcides Escobar was putting up early in the season, but Ned Yost saw something else. I asked Ned what made him believe Alcides eventually was going to hit. “Hand-eye coordination, athleticism and the ability to adjust,” Ned said.
Ned said he saw the same thing in J.J. Hardy when Ned was in Milwaukee and took a bunch of criticism for sticking with Hardy. It’s easy to look at stats and make pronouncements about what’s there. It’s much harder to watch a player and see what might be there.
Y’know, there is some slight chance that the people who have played and studied this game all their lives know more than the rest of us.