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Royals catcher Matt Treanor demonstrates how he blocks the plate
Royals catcher Matt Treanor demonstrates his techniques of blocking the plate with The Star's Lee Judge. June 27, 2011 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)
Bruce Chen was nibbling; the Orioles weren't biting
As a Royals executive (and one of our readers) pointed out, Bruce Chen, the Royals’ starter on Tuesday night, is more successful when he has a liberal strike zone to work with. Chen was just off the corners a lot in this game, but he wasn’t getting the calls. That’s why you’re seeing four walks and 115 pitches in four and two-thirds innings in the box score this morning. If Bruce gets the call on the first pitch, he can expand the zone and force the hitter to hit his pitch. If he’s not getting the calls early in the at-bat, he has to come in to the middle of the plate and get whacked or refuse to come into the middle of the plate and walk people.
Royals fans got to see a little of both last night.
Billy’s new approach
I asked Billy Butler whether he had changed his approach at the plate last week, and he said he was standing more upright and keeping his hands higher. Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer recommended the change and Billy said the change was allowing him to stay above the ball and hit down through it. That creates rising backspin and tee-shot trajectory. When his hands were lower, Billy had to fight up to the ball. That created topspin, which made the ball dive.
Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson pointed out that Billy had actually raised his average in the last week, and Doug believes Billy can hit 30 home runs and .300. He just needs to look for a pitch to drive early in the count and go back to hitting the ball the other way with two strikes. I asked Sis if Billy was catching those home-run balls out in front, and he confirmed it. “Power happens out in front.”
Billy told me he might strike out more doing it this way, but if he can continue to do what he did last week, it will be worth it.
So if Billy can hit for more power
I asked Jeff Francoeur what his batting average would be if he didn’t try to hit for power and concentrated on hitting for average.
Big grin. “.270.”
“What are you hitting now?”
“Runner on third less than two outs, yeah. Otherwise, no.” I’d say Clint Eastwood was right and a man has to know his limitations, but that didn’t stop Frenchy from playing the drums on the chair next to him while singing “Jack and Diane” at the top of his lungs before I left the clubhouse. He might hit for power, but the dude really can’t sing.
Some questions from last week get answered
Chris Getz told me he didn’t miss a sign on that messed-up bunt. He knew it was a safety squeeze and just did a lousy job. The look to third base was to see whether the runner was coming home. Getz said the safety squeeze is not his favorite. In that situation, he prefers the suicide squeeze. The safety squeeze requires a better bunt and then forces the runner to make a decision. (Chris also was surprised he was given a sacrifice on the play.)
Chris then said he did commit a mental mistake on that stolen base when he slowed halfway. For some reason (he wasn’t sure if it was a sound or something visual), he was convinced that the batter, Alcides Escobar, had fouled the pitch off. He slowed, everyone kept playing and Chris realized he had screwed up.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas was not guarding the line on that double hit by Carlos Santana in the loss to the Indians. The Royals figured a pull-hitting first baseman/catcher batting from the left side of the plate would not go right down the third-base line. They played the odds and got burned. On the other hand, Moose said they played the line a lot in Boston. It’s hard to score from second on a base hit to left, but a ball hit down the line in Fenway Park has a good chance of hitting the stands and shooting out into short left field. Then the runner can score. I think Moose had some more interesting stuff to say, but I couldn’t hear because someone was caterwauling “Jack and Diane” in my right ear.
I told Eric Hosmer that Red Sox third-base coach Tim Bogar had good things to say about him, and Hos said Bogie was a funny guy. When Bogie left the dugout to go to his position, he would wave to Hos like a wide receiver wanting the ball and Hos would throw him a fade pass. (It’s a long season and players do what they can to make it more fun.)
Doug Sisson said Melky Cabrera could not have tagged up on the play I wrote about and made it to third. The ball was hit to right center, and everyone thought it was down. But Billy smoked it, and it had more carry than everyone thought. And Sisson (who’s never afraid to admit mistakes) said that if Melky had tagged, it was at best a 50-50 bet that he could have made it.
Blocking the plate
I talked to catcher Matt Treanor, and he seems fine, but he still can’t remember the play that knocked him out. Matt showed me the cut on his left cheekbone where Matt LaPorta’s shoulder nailed him. Treanor will have to go through a series of tests to get back on the field, and he’s taking it easy until then. Interesting note: He was going to ride a stationary bike, listen to headphones and read something, but he was told he could use the headphones or read, but not both. Apparently his brain is easily stressed at this point (and I know the feeling).
If you watch Treanor’s video on blocking the plate, you can see exactly what went wrong when he collided with Matt LaPorta. Instead of being inside or outside the foul line, Treanor wound up straddling the line. Straddling the foul line gives the runner nowhere to go and invites a collision. It’s kind of eerie to listen to Treanor describe what was going to happen to him a few weeks later.
Matt felt well enough to joke about the rule changes that have been suggested after Giants catcher Buster Posey got hurt, and Matt wondered why no one was suggesting rule changes after he got KO’d. Hmmm … just how big of a star do you have to be before they change the rules of the sport for you?
Speaking of catching videos
When I do these videos, I already know a lot of the techniques that I ask the players to demonstrate. (I can’t do them, but I know them.) Still, almost every day, someone tells me something I didn’t know, some small detail I would miss unless a major-league player pointed it out to me.
Matt Treanor’s video on receiving the ball with the thumb up and elbow down is on that list. Matt showed how that position makes the pitch look better to the umpire. Thumb down and elbow up has a lot of the catcher’s body out of the zone and the pitcher is less likely to get the call.
Now when I watch a game on TV and see a pitch that appears to be within the Foxtrax strike zone and the pitcher doesn’t get the call, I often recognize the move by the catcher (reaching, too much movement or thumb down) that cost the pitcher the call.
And so can you.