Games » Cleveland IndiansApr26
A winning streak
The Kansas City Star
Before this game, pitching coach Dave Eiland asked Luis Mendoza what had changed since spring training. Luis pitched as well or better than anyone in Surprise, but has pitched poorly since breaking camp. Luis said he thought he had to be better to compete during a big league season. The result has been being “too fine” — trying to make perfect pitches on the corners. Dave Eiland told Luis to trust his stuff, pound the zone with low strikes and let hitters get themselves out.
Either Dave Eiland reads this site or I’ve been listening to a lot of pitching coaches for the past 20 years. (If I were you, I’d go with option No. 2.)
The top of the 5th
The count’s 3-0, Mike Moustakas is on third, Brayan Pena‘s on first and Mitch Maier‘s at the plate. Mitch swings at the 3-0 pitch and fouls it off. So what’s up with all the 3-0 green lights? Could be several answers: the 3-0 green light can be used to get a struggling hitter going. Let him take a whack at a “cookie” (fastball down the middle) and see if that jump-starts him.
It can be used with a hot hitter at the plate and runners in scoring position. The Royals had already scored three in the inning and Yost might’ve been trying to put the dagger in.
And it can be used when you’d rather the man at the plate didn’t walk. (Sorry, I know that concept just gave a gaggle of metric fans a heart attack, but it’s why pitchers “work around” hitters — the next guy has worse odds.) If the man on-deck is not going to be replaced by a pinch-hitter and the manager doesn’t like his chances of driving in a run, the manager may try to get his hot hitter a crack at a middle-middle fastball. I’ve got no clue what Ned thought of Alcides Ecobar’s chances (he struck out), but having the man at the plate put the ball in play is sometimes the better option.
The bottom of the 6th and 7th innings
Tim Collins comes in to pitch with nobody out, the bases loaded and the tying run on first base. The winning run is at the plate, represented by Travis Hafner. If Hafner hits a bomb, the Indians are ahead. Hafner is probably looking for a fastball, so Collins throws him one — at 89 MPH. Hafner swings through it and goes on to fly out. This subtle “adding and subtracting” of a few miles an hour is another way pitchers keep hitters off balance.
Collins throws two innings and pitches well. One inherited runner scores, he also gives up one hit, but retires every right-handed hitter he’s allowed to face. With the game on the line, if Tim had given up a three-run home run to Shelley Duncan — the hitter following Hafner — armchair managers would have gone ballistic over the managing incompetence of Ned Yost: “Why didn’t he bring in a right-handed reliever to face the right-handed hitter?”
Armchair managers would have said that because it’s one of the few things they know about pitching: most of the time, right-handers get right-handed hitters out at a higher rate. I do not know what Ned was thinking when he left Collins in the game — matchup numbers, wind, the ball not carrying on a foggy day — stuff like that gets factored in. But I can tell that in 20 years of talking to ballplayers, coaches and managers after a game, they knew something I didn’t know about 98 percent of the time. The other 2 percent they tell me they screwed up.
If Yost doesn’t follow the book and the move fails, he’ll get widely criticized. It’s only fair to note when a move succeeds.
The top of the 8th
Brayan Pena led off the inning with a double. The Royals were up 4-2 and decided to play for a tack-on run. Mitch Maier was at the plate and attempted a sacrifice bunt to move Brayan to third. Mitch got the bunt down, but Brayan did not advance. Once again, without talking to someone I can’t tell you why, but I can make an educated guess.
The last time this came up — Pena on second, nobody down, Maier attempting to bunt him over — Maier’s bunt was too close to the pitcher and Brayan was out at third. This time the bunt was once again out in front of the plate — a good one — but it did not force the third baseman to field the ball. After the last incident, I’m guessing Brayan was overly cautious about advancing. That cost the Royals a run when Alcides Escobar flew out to right field three pitches later.
As I wrote and I guess Ned Yost said, “Sometimes they’re cautious when they need to be aggressive, sometimes they’re aggressive when they need to be cautious.” When a team feels insecure, this is what happens — some people trying to make a big play and some people trying not to screw up. When a team feels good about itself they play the same kind of aggressive baseball all the time and live with the results.
(And it makes Chris Getz’ theory that the ball should be bunted on the first base side look better all the time.)
The bottom of the 8th
Aaron Crow comes to the mound in the 8th inning with a two-run lead. He starts fine, gets two outs and then Travis Hafner comes to the plate. Baseball players and coaches always track the tying and winning runs. Hafner can hit the ball into one of the Great Lakes and it won’t tie the game. At all costs, Crow needs to make Hafner swing the bat. If Hafner brains another sports bar patron, so be it — but a ball in play will give the Royals defense a chance.
Crow walks Hafner.
That brings Shelley Duncan to the plate. Duncan can tie the game, but he can’t win it. Crow walks Duncan. That brings Jack Hannahan to the plate and now, because of the two walks, Hannahan can plate the winning run with one swing. Hannahan flies out to Gordon. Crow has played with fire and gotten away with it.
The bottom of the 9th
Jonathan Broxton comes in to close the game — he still has a two-run lead. Jose Lopez leads off the inning by grounding out. Jason Kipnis singles, bringing Aaron Cunningham, representing the tying run, to the plate. Cunningham flies out, Michael Brantley steps in the box and Broxton walks him. The Royals have brought the winning run to the plate by walking people in both the 8th and the 9th. The walks have also allowed the Indians to get a good hitter, Asdrubal Cabrera to the plate with a chance to win the ball game. Cabrera flies out to end the game.
The Royals still have issues with walks. Bob McClure lost his job because of those issues and so far, Dave Eiland is dealing the same issues. Turning the lineup over, allowing a team that hasn’t earned it to bring the tying and winning runs to the plate, giving the heart of the order an extra at-bat is a recipe for disaster.
The Royals have won two in a row, but still have issues.