Games » Tampa Bay RaysJul24
Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher
That’s an old baseball saying that means no matter how well or poorly you played today, tomorrow the momentum will shift to the team with the best starting pitching. So winning four in a row didn’t mean anything unless Felipe Paulino had command of his pitches in this game.
He didn’t. Felipe threw 105 pitches in five and two-thirds innings, walked two batters and hit two with pitches. The Royals’ pitchers have been coming inside more often to keep hitters from diving to the outside corner of the plate. Paulino was coming inside, but he couldn’t hit his spots consistently (unless his spots were attached to the backs of the Rays’ Sean Rodriguez and Desmond Jennings).
I and a whole lot of other people out here think this team has improved in many areas, but I and whole lot of other people out here think it won’t mean much until the starting pitching gets better. That’s because momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.
How to hit a batter
The Royals are pitching inside to prevent hitters from leaning over the plate to handle outside pitches. In the fourth inning on Sunday, the Rays’ Johnny Damon demonstrated the problem. Facing a 1-2 count, Damon was able to reach two outside pitches off the plate and foul them back. Clearly, Damon thought the pitches were too close to take with two strikes, but Paulino was well off the plate with the pitches.
So if Johnny can get the barrel of his bat on pitches that were off the plate and away, what will he do with a strike on the outside corner? That pitch is now well within his reach. That’s why pitchers have to go inside, straighten up the hitter and make the outside corner the outside corner once again.
Since the Royals started emphasizing this, Kansas City pitchers have been hitting a lot of batters. But hitting a batter isn’t always the pitcher’s fault. If the hitter is diving, he might not get out of the way of a pitch that is really not that far inside. So not only are the pitchers adjusting to going inside, the hitters must also adjust (unless they don’t mind getting hit).
And this brings us to the subject of retaliation. Let’s say another team decides it has had enough or just doesn’t like the way its shortstop got spiked at second base. The approved method for hitting a batter is to throw below the shoulders (anything around the head could cause serious injury and might start a brawl) and behind the back (the hitter will back up into it).
If the pitcher is serious about sending a message, he does it with a fastball. Although I’ve heard of situations where a hitter had to be hit for form’s sake (you got one of ours, we have to get one of yours), the other team isn’t really mad (actually, our guy was acting like an idiot and probably deserved it). Then an off-speed pitch might be used.
Other game stuff
Rough day for Royals catcher Matt Treanor. He was blocking pitches in the dirt all day and did it four times with a runner on third. He also got nailed by a pitch that came up and hit him in the neck. After the game, he had a baseball-size welt there, and it’s pretty hard to leave a welt on a neck.
Matt also made a base-running mistake when he was on second and Alex Gordon hit a deep fly ball to left field. Matt said he wanted to be sure to score if the ball dropped for a hit, but there was nobody out. The textbook move in that situation is to go back to the base and tag. (With one down, you take a lead. With two down … well, you know what you do with two down.)
As luck would have it, the ball didn’t drop (although Rays left fielder Sam Fuld tried his best). The next ball in play was a fly ball by Melky Cabrera that would have scored Matt if he had been on third.
Chris Getz almost got picked off first base on a pitch that was down and in to a left-handed batter (I think it was Gordon). A catcher who wants to pick off a runner at first just goes with the pitch and continues behind the left-handed batter, coming out the other side and makes the throw from foul territory.
Getz was late getting to the bag but then used a nifty “swim move” (the runner sticks out one hand and when the fielder tries to tag it, he pulls it back while using the other hand to get in). I can’t give Chris minus points for getting picked off (because he didn’t get picked off), but I can’t give him heads-up base-running points for a move that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
Two of the walks and one of the hit batters scored. Throw strikes, and the odds say at least two of those runners aren’t on base to begin with.
Royals manager Ned Yost said the six-man rotation means an extra day of rest for starters, and because of it he might go a little further with the pitch count. He didn’t give a specific number, but it sounded as though a starter who id throwing well might get an extra inning.
Matt Treanor, whose batting average is .227, is still in the top three among starters in on-base percentage.
Rays starter Alex Cobb put the Royals between a rock and a hard place. When a starting pitcher is throwing well, the other team’s offense wants to get him out of the game. Maybe they will have better luck with the bullpen, but if the starter is pounding the zone, the hitters can’t afford to fall behind. So do they take pitches and hit down in the count or hack early and let the pitcher keep his count down?
The Royals mainly went with the “hack early” theory. That only works if you get hits. They didn’t get many, and Cobb used only 85 pitches to throw seven innings. (Contrast that with Paulino’s 105 pitches in five and two-thirds innings.)
I was in the clubhouse talking with Mitch Maier, and I noticed all the strawberries on his left knee. They were in places he scraped while sliding into bases. I asked if they ever healed or if he would tear them up again the next time he slid. Mitch said no. He had a pad he wore once he tore up his knee. It’s a neoprene sleeve with padding that fits over the kneecap.
Being logical (or so I thought), I asked why he didn’t wear the pad all the time. Then he wouldn’t tear the knee up in the first place. Mitch responded with perfect baseball logic. If he didn’t wear the pad, luck being what it is, he was more likely to get in the game, get on base and tear up the knee again.
The scary part is that made total sense to me.
One last note
The Royals have been praised as a team that doesn’t dwell on losses. On Sunday morning, they showed they don’t dwell on victories, either. Baseball just keeps happening, whether you want it to or not. There’s no time to mope or gloat about what happened yesterday. That’s over. What matters is what you do today.
Kind of like working for a newspaper.