Games » Colorado RockiesJul3
Is the game over yet?
Because of my connection to Clint Hurdle, I’ve seen a lot of baseball at Coors Field. I hadn’t seen too many games before I asked Clint how a pitcher was supposed to pitch in Colorado. The infield’s fast, and groundballs have an excellent chance of scooting through. The air is thin, and fly balls have an excellent chance of going out.
“We know you’re going to give up home runs. Don’t walk two guys first.” According to Clint, you pitch in Coors Field like you pitch anywhere else: throw strikes, if possible throw low strikes and make sure you limit the damage. That sounds like a good idea no matter where you’re pitching.
So how did the Royals do at following this excellent advice?
With a six-run lead in the fifth inning, Luke Hochevar walked the leadoff batter.
With a seven-run lead in the sixth inning, Tim Collins walked the leadoff batter.
With an eight-run lead in the seventh inning, Blake Wood walked the leadoff batter.
The Rockies scored eight runs, and four of those batters got on base by walks. Two walks scored in front Carlos Gonzales’ double, and an inning later two scored in front Gonzalez’ home run. It’s been a lousy road trip, and it was nice to see the Royals win big, but if they keep pitching like this, things will get worse before they get better. Needing to score nine runs to win a game is not a winning formula.
Speaking of formulas
Same pattern with Hochevar: lights out for three or four innings and then kablooey. The TV guys had an interesting set of numbers. In the first three innings, Luke’s ERA is under 3.00 and from the fourth inning on it’s above 7.00. When Luke led off the fifth inning by walking Ty Wigginton on four pitches, Royals manager Ned Yost came out. I thought for a second that Ned was going to pull Luke and maybe reinforce the “we’re-not-going-to-let-you-work-through-this-stuff-while-the-game-goes-down-the-tubes” philosophy. Admittedly, that would have been a very quick hook, but I’ve been around pitchers who need to see someone warming up in the pen before they kick it in gear. Yost’s trip to the mound turned out to be a medical visit, but the fact that I would even think he would pull Luke lets you know what the pattern has been.
Hitting is contagious
That’s the old cliche, but I’m not sure I buy it. When the Royals’ offense goes dead, I’ve pointed out that nine guys did not all forget how to hit at the same time. It might be the pitching. It was the same on Sunday: Everyone didn’t suddenly remember how to hit and get hot at the same time. Once again, it might be the pitching.
I’m not sure hitting is contagious, but I’m almost positive lousy pitching is … and there was a lot of it out there.
Moving the runner over
Runner on second. Close game. Nobody out. The guy at the plate is supposed to hit the ball to the right side and get the runner to third base, right? Don’t assume that means the hitter is giving himself up. There are extra-base hits that direction also. Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar both picked up doubles Sunday while trying to move the runner over. (When we started this blog, I asked Ron Polk how he wanted that category scored. Ron said use that for a guy who makes an out moving the runner as an acknowledgment of a job well done.)
One down. Moustakas at third. Luke Hochevar was at the plate, and Luke squared to bunt. I’m assuming it was a safety squeeze. I don’t think anyone trusts Luke’s bunting enough to go suicide squeeze. On this play, the runner on third trails the third baseman in as far as he can and breaks if he thinks he has a shot at home.
The bunt wasn’t very good. The pitcher, Jason Hammel, picked it up, the third baseman retreated and Moose retreated with him. The mistake happened when Hammel threw to first. At that point, Moose needed to reverse direction again and at least start toward home in case something goofy happened. Something goofy did happen, and Moose was in no position to take advantage.
Hammel buried the throw. Todd Helton at first couldn’t handle it, but instead of scoring, Moustakas was headed back to third. Runners need to always assume they’re going to the next base. The can shut it down if they can’t make it, but assuming you’re not advancing means you’re in no position to take advantage of a defensive mistake.
The right way to bunt
We’ve seen a lot of bad bunt attempts during interleague play, so here’s a short guide to laying down a sacrifice bunt.
Move up in the box, it puts the bat further into fair territory and helps keep the ball fair.
Square early. You’re a pitcher, everybody knows you’re going to bunt.
The bat needs to be at the top of the strike zone with two angles in it. The barrel is higher than the knob of the bat so if you pop the ball up, it will go off to the side, not straight up, which gives the pitcher or catcher a play. The barrel also needs to ahead of or behind the knob. If they’re even, the ball is going right back to the mound. Don’t try to bunt it down the line. You’re not Rod Carew. You’re not bunting for a hit, you just want someone to have to move a few steps to field the ball.
Get the arms extended. If you keep the bat close to your body, you will extend it when the ball arrives. Then you will have two moving objects, bat and ball. You will end up jabbing at the ball. Get the bat extended and you can catch the ball with the bat.
And finally, the bat’s at the top of the zone. Don’t go up for a ball. Only go down, and when you do, bend your knees to make that happen. If you dip the barrel to get there, you’ll pop the ball up.
Wow, sounds like I know a lot about bunting, doesn’t it? Well, I do … theoretically. Everything I know is out of instruction manuals and in real life I violated every one of these guidelines. When the ball starts moving, lots of stuff changes.
There has been lots of discussion about lineups lately. There is a school of thought that says the lineup doesn’t matter much. Carefully constructing a lineup with an on-base percentage base stealer in the one-hole, followed by a bat handler in the two-hole, backed up by your best hitter in the three hole doesn’t matter much if the lead-off hitter makes an out.
Now the two-hole hitter is your lead-off man.
So if it all seems overly complicated by logic that doesn’t often come into play, look at it this way: Most of the time, the top five guys in the lineup get one more at-bat than your bottom four. Just put the five guys you would like to see get an extra trip to the plate in some kind of order that makes sense (speed in front of power) and forget it.
Why pitchers can’t hit
Now there’s a logical question. Why can’t pitcher’s hit? Most of these guys were stud hitters in high school or college. When they weren’t on the mound, they often were playing shortstop and batting third. So what happened?
I asked that question of Russ Morman, the AAA hitting coach for the Giants. He gave me a logical answer: lack of practice. Lots of major-league pitchers played a position when they were in school and lots of major-league position players pitched. They get drafted and are then sent down one road or the other: pitcher or position player.
By the time he gets to the big leagues, a position player has seen thousands and thousands (I’ve got no idea of the actual number) of pitches in game conditions that a pitcher hasn’t. Same thing happens in reverse: The position player, who might have been a good pitcher in the past, has not thrown the thousands and thousands of game-condition pitches that a pitcher has.
They may have started out equal, but time and practice have made them into very different players. (Hey, what if interleague play not only required a pitcher to hit, but the guy throwing to him had to be a position player? I think I would still go with the position player: a major-league shortstop can throw in the mid-90s. He probably wouldn’t know where it was going, but he could get it up there. Now that does sound entertaining.)
Aaron Crow, All-Star
The first guy that suggested this might be the right pick was Jeff Francoeur, and Frency said it when we were in St. Louis. Jeff said he thought Aaron had been the most consistent performer overall on the Royals and he could really help the American League win.
There probably won’t be any shortage of good hitting outfielders in the All-Star Game, but a scoreless inning sitting in your bullpen waiting to happen might come in handy.