Games » Toronto Blue JaysAug23
Why Bruce Chen was so good
If you’ve been following this website all season, you know Bruce Chen is a much better pitcher when A.) an umpire has a big strike zone and doesn’t force Bruce to come into the middle of the plate, and B.) Bruce has command and can keep his stuff out of the middle of the plate.
Both happened last night.
There is a downside to a wide strike zone like home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck’s. If an umpire is going to call strikes on pitches well off the plate outside, he’s going to force hitters to dive to that outside corner to cover those pitches. Once a pitcher sees a hitter diving to cover away, the usual response is to come up and in. A diving hitter and purpose pitch up and in is a dangerous combination. It didn’t come up last night, but watch for this sequence in the future and you’re going to see some close calls.
OK, so if Hirschbeck had a generous zone, why couldn’t Toronto’s starter, Brandon Morrow, take advantage? Because Morrow didn’t have B.) command. He was missing spots and only got away with it for one inning. There was another factor that may have contributed to Morrow’s bad outing: Brandon didn’t throw a curveball until he faced Mike Moustakas in the second inning.
Pitchers sometimes like to save pitches for the second and third trip through the opponent’s batting order. Morrow threw nothing but fastballs and sliders until he faced his eighth batter, Mike Moustakas. By then he already had given up a home run, a double, two singles and three runs. Once he began mixing in a third and fourth pitch, he got out of the second inning without any more damage, and threw scoreless third and fourth innings. But by the fifth inning, Morrow’s pitch count was up, the Royals tacked on three more runs and he was done.
Saving pitches for later in the game is a great strategy — if you can afford it. But when you start getting whacked around early, you better use everything you’ve got to weather the storm you’re in right now.
Those two home runs
Last season, Mitch Maier told me that Toronto’s outfield warning track was just a line on the turf. Unless they’ve changed it, what Mitch meant was that the turf changes color, but there’s no difference in texture. (At least that’s what it looked like on TV.)
The end result is a warning track that looks nice but doesn’t work. The idea is that an outfielder is racing back, hits dirt and knows how many steps he has until he hits the wall (if he’s done his homework). Two Blue Jays outfielders did not appear to know exactly where the wall was on the Royals’ two home runs.
Center fielder Colby Rasmus went back on Eric Hosmer’s home run and jumped too soon. Left fielder Eric Thames went back on Billy Butler’s home run and jumped too late, hitting the wall on the way up and robbing himself of a chance to make the catch.
Keep watching for this to come into play this series. Outfielders might pull up short, not knowing where the wall is or have a collision for the same reason.
Moose’s mental mistake, probably
I’m reluctant to tack on a mental mistake unless I’m pretty sure of what happened, but I’m pretty sure of what happened. Mike Moustakas hit a ball down the left-field line (good for him, one of the cures for your shoulder flying open is going the other way, you stay closed longer to hit the ball), and Mike stood there and watched for a moment. I think he expected the ball to slice foul. Line drives down the line often hook or slice foul, but when you really square one up, they fly straight.
It was only a momentary hesitation, but when Moose tried to stretch the ball off the wall into a double, he was out by a step — the step he lost watching the ball. Afterward, in the dugout, he was talking to Chris Getz and Getz was making a motion with his hand that seemed to be describing the straight flight of the ball.
Sometimes a move pays off later
A move can fail. A base-stealer is thrown out, a bunt doesn’t work or a runner sent home is thrown out at the plate. But that move may pay off later. The hitter gets a fastball because the base-stealer is on first, or a double goes down the line because the third baseman was playing in for the bunt or, Colby Rasmus gets in a big hurry because a runner is headed home and Colby makes an error.
For just that reason, the Royals want to develop a reputation for running. The reputation pays off even when you aren’t running. I don’t know whether Jeff Francoeur would have made it home if Rasmus had fielded the ball cleanly, but it’s a good bet that Johnny Giavotella would not have ended up on second.
And that paid off in an extra run when Salvador Perez followed Johnny’s single with one of his own. And that paid off when closer Joakim Soria gave up a run in the ninth. That meant Jack still had a two-run lead to work with instead of a one-run lead. And the Jays got the tying run to the plate but never on base.
As Jim Palmer once said of Earl Weaver, the only thing I know about good pitching is I couldn’t hit it. But here’s what I’ve noticed. When Joakim Soria starts an at-bat with something hard away on the very edge of the strike zone and gets the call, the hitter is in trouble. If Joakim misses that spot, the at-bat often becomes a struggle for him.
There are some nights you just don’t see the pinpoint control that has made Soria so tough. Tuesday was one of those nights. The Royals had a shift on for Toronto’s Adam Lind that had second baseman Chris Getz pulled way over in the hole and deep. (Getz might have been in the game because Giavotella almost threw away a routine ball earlier and Hosmer’s height at first based saved Johnny an error.)
Anyway, when you put a shift on, the idea is to get the ball hit into that shift. Soria missed badly, giving the left-hander Lind a pitch away that Lind could shoot through the hole where the shortstop usually would have been standing.
All’s well that ends well, but some endings make you nervous.