Games » Detroit TigersApr17
‘We're headed in the right direction’
The Kansas City Star
That was what starter Bruce Chen said after the Royals lost their sixth straight game. “We’re headed in the right direction.” So what is the disconnect? Why are some people running around screaming that the sky is falling and other people are saying everything is going to be OK? It’s simple: effort vs. results.
When I first started taking baseball seriously, there was a concept I had to get my mind around. Effort is more important than results. It is what players, coaches and managers believe. It is why their reactions to a loss can seem so out of touch to a fan who is more concerned with results than effort.
The Royals got off to a good start, but over the weekend they did not play well. The Royals let the Cleveland Indians bat around the order at least once in each game, and the games got ugly. The Royals have played better the last two nights. They haven’t won, but the effort has improved, and Chen is seeing that. He knows that if his team continues to give this type of effort, everything will be OK. That was why he said the Royals are headed in the right direction.
Some fans and members of the media are jumping off the Royals bandwagon. They are focusing on results, and so far, the results haven’t been good. So far, the effort of the 2012 Royals has been inconsistent, and the results show that. But give a good effort long enough, and the results will be there.
Like I said, the media and most fans focus on results. Ballplayers don’t think that way. You shouldn’t either.
When too much effort hurts you
The Royals had bad starting pitching over the weekend, but they hit. Now, they’re getting good starting pitching — Bruce Chen was great — but they aren’t hitting with runners in scoring position. Some of that is plain old trying too hard. These guys don’t want to lose, and they know this has been a bad home stand. So the hitters are going to the plate, trying to be heroes.
Take Eric Hosmer. Before the game, I asked Hosmer what he had been working on with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. Eric said his swing had gotten a little long (taking too big a cut) and he and Seitzer worked on shortening it up. In the eighth inning, Hosmer came to the plate, and I’m sure he wanted to do something to turn the game around. So what did Detroit pitcher Joaquin Benoit throw? Changeup, changeup, changeup. Hos took mighty hacks and missed three times.
That’s how you use a young hitter’s aggression against him.
I didn’t get to ask Hosmer about this at-bat when I came into the clubhouse after the game because the team was having an informal meeting in the corner. I don’t know what was being discussed — the media gave them their space — but no surprise, Jeff Francoeur was in the middle of it. I’ll ask about it tomorrow.
I listened to Robert Ford on 610 Sports radio as I drove home from the park. Fans’ reactions to what we’ve all just witnessed were interesting, and Robert’s responses were, too. A few fans blamed shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for not getting to two ground balls hit up the middle. Robert wasn’t buying that, and neither am I.
I’m lucky enough to sit in a direct line behind home plate — six floors up, but still in a direct line. None of those ground balls up the middle looked as if it should have been caught. In a weird way, professionals sometimes look worse on those balls than amateurs.
An amateur will chase after a ball he has no chance of catching, dive and miss the ball by 10 feet. After judging jillions of ground balls, pros are much better at realizing which balls they can reach and which ones are destined for the outfield. When a pro peels off because he knows the ball can’t be caught, it looks bad. It’s not, but it looks that way.
Runner on second. Nobody out, and the man at the plate is going to bunt the runner over. Usually, the ball is bunted to third base. That forces the third baseman to field the ball, which leaves the bag wide open. Even a slow runner makes it easily. On Monday night, Chris Getz bunted the ball to the first-base side. The reason is interesting. Getz says bunting the ball to third works great — if the bunt is perfect. Get it too close to the mound, and the pitcher picks up the ball and has an easy play to cut down the lead runner. Bunt the ball on the first-base side, and there is more room for error. Even if the batter doesn’t get it past the pitcher, the pitcher will throw the ball to first base.
So if Getz is right, why didn’t Alcides Escobar bunt the ball to the first-base side later in the same game? Answer: Prince Fielder. The Getz bunt came in the first inning. Fielder was back at first base. The Tigers were not going to do anything that might open up a big inning. Escobar’s bunt came in the fifth inning. By then it was clear one run would mean a lot, so the Tigers had Fielder charge the plate.
Someone recently asked me what is said when at home plate before every game. The umpire and the managers — or whoever the managers send to the plate with the teams’ lineup cards — go over the ground rules of the ballpark. The umpire makes sure everyone is on the same page regarding what’s in play and what isn’t. Last season there was a short green railing atop Kauffman Stadium’s outfield wall. Padding now covers that railing. The change makes it easier for the umpires on home-run calls.
The meeting at the plate is probably longer before the first game of each series. Before game two or three, they probably are talking about what restaurant they will go to that evening.
Another reader asked about the Royals stealing bases when they are down by a lot late in a game. The answer — provided by first-base coach Doug Sisson — was interesting. Both teams are still trying to win. The team with the big lead has decided that it is better off positioning its first baseman back behind the runner — that gives him more range. The team that’s behind figures it is better off taking the base that is being offered and forcing a long throw across the infield.
The same thing applies to sending a runner home. Third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez was waving runners around third last weekend even though the Royals were far behind. Eddie knew the Cleveland outfielders were not going to throw home, risk injury to their catcher and allow trailing base-runners to move up.
One more question: Why did Jonathan Sanchez continue to pitch out of the stretch after picking off a runner on first base? Jonathan said he was ahead in the count and didn’t want to change the rhythm of what he was doing. When he came back out for the next inning, he went back to the windup.
Maybe this will cheer you up
Someone told me that the Tigers started last season 3-7 and the Tampa Bay Rays started 1-8. Even the Philadelphia Phillies, with that pitching staff, had a 1-9 stretch in 2011. The problem for the Royals is they have had their bad stretch at home and at the start of a season. If they had a stretch like this in the middle of the season, many people wouldn’t notice.