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No easy answer
The Kansas City Star
Should Luke Hochevar pitch inside more? Is he injured? Is he tipping pitches? Is he falling into predictable patterns? Does his sinker have insufficient movement? Is he failing to take advantage of his height? Should his pitches be on a steeper downhill plane? Does something change when he gets in the stretch? Does he need to do a better job of focusing pitch to pitch? Is he as mentally tough as he should be? Those are the questions I heard asked after Hochevar had another disastrous start on Sunday. Here are the answers:
It’s a theory. Ned and Luke say no. Ned says no. Luke thinks it’s possible. That’s another theory. Make that three theories. Couldn’t hurt. We’re up to four theories. Always a good idea. Who is?
The truth is, there is no easy answer. If there was, they’d fix it. Both Luke and Ned Yost sounded perplexed after the game. Both Luke and Ned Yost said they’d be searching for answers.
You could say get rid of him — and some fans are — but you have to replace him with someone. Mike Montgomery 4.98 ERA in Triple A? Vin Mazzaro 4.37 ERA? Sean O’Sullivan 7.94 ERA? Nate Adcock’s here, so I guess you could make that argument. Luis Mendoza pitched OK in long relief after Luke was pulled. Some people want Aaron Crow in the starting rotation.
None of these look like obvious, easy solutions.
Three starts ago Luke Hochevar went six and a third innings against Cleveland, gave up two earned runs and broke the Royals losing streak. The Royals are trying to find the guy who did that and get him to show up more often.
Luke tried to get inside on Derek Jeter on the first pitch of the game. The pitch didn’t get there and Jeter doubled.
I talked to Felipe Paulino and here’s how he was getting Derek Jeter out Saturday night: Jeter has an “inside-out” swing. The means he keeps the bat inside that path of the pitch and then hits the inside half of the ball. That’s why the ball goes to right field and why Jeter can wait so long to decipher what the pitch is. But that swing requires some room. Paulino’s 2-seamer runs into a right-handed batter, but stays flat — no drop. Jeter was trying to hit the inside half, but had to pull his hands in closer to his body as that pitch ran in on him. That meant no extension and no power. It’s what every other pitcher has been trying to do to Jeter. Saturday night, Paulino got it done.
Irving Falu hit a triple in his first major league at-bat. The guy spent a decade or so waiting for the chance to play in the big leagues and I get the impression everyone was thrilled for him. Falu ran through a stopsign from Eddie Rodriguez to get the triple and then failed to cover second base when Humberto Quintero tried to pick a runner off, but none of that is especially surprising. Mike Moustakas told me that when you get to the major leagues, the game comes at you pretty fast. It takes a while for things to slow back down. Apparently, Falu isn’t there yet.
In the third inning Humberto Quintero started to leave the field with two outs. Understandable, the inning had gone forever. Understandable, but not forgivable. As Frank White once said. “There are a lot of opportunities to find out how many outs there are on a major league baseball field.”
It was bad, but Royals pitchers made it worse than it had to be: three walks and a hit batter scored. It’s hard enough to beat the Yankees — don’t help them.
Starting the runner
Yesterday we talked about starting runners and when Ned Yost likes to do it. Thursday night Ned started Alex Gordon with Billy Butler at the plate and it helped win the game: fifth inning, one down, Alex on first and Billy at the plate with a 3-2 count. Ned started Alex. If Billy swings through the pitch, it might be a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. Billy did not swing through the pitch, but did hit a perfect double play ball to short. Gordon was already arriving at second, so instead of a double play, it was a 6-3. Hosmer then singled, Francoeur walked, Moustakas singled and the Royals had two runs — final score 4-3.
Managers make big decisions that get lots of attention. They also make less obvious decisions that go largely unnoticed. This decision helped win a game.
Frenchy lets it rip
Detroit manager Jim Leyland recently said Jeff Francoeur is one of the best throwing outfielders in baseball because “He trusts his hands.” So Sunday morning, I asked Jeff about that. When baseball players pick up a baseball, they automatically rotate it in their throwing hand in order to throw the ball with four seams. That means the fingers go across the wide part of the horseshoe pattern on the ball. (See photo below.)
That’s what infielders are doing when they delay the throw a moment. Throw a four-seamer and the ball flies straight and true, the four seams hit the atmosphere at regular intervals. Put your fingers on the ball in any other way and the flight becomes less regular. So other outfielders are taking that moment to find the four seams, Frenchy is letting fly with whatever grip he has — that makes him a beat faster.
The fascinating part is Jeff says he can feel when he has two-seams (throwing with the seams and not across them) and adjusts accordingly. If Jeff throws a two-seamer — and his hands are large enough they’re always find some seams — the ball tails to Jeff’s right. That movement actually help Jeff when throwing to third, because the ball moves around the runner.
Sunday was a day off for Frenchy so I asked what was on the agenda: some work with the trainers, relaxing, starting to hit off a tee in the 5th inning, being ready to pinch-hit if needed from the 7th on, but Frenchy thought his most important role was cheerleading. Mitch Maier was getting a start and Jeff planned to be there early to cheer him on. Apparently, on some teams, the veterans who get a day off stay in the clubhouse unless needed. Frenchy said Mitch — and Irving Falu — deserved him being there for support, just like they are when he plays.
Left: the four-seam grip — right: the two-seam grip