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Chen figures it out
The Kansas City Star
When Bruce Chen was named the Royals opening day starter, there were people who ridiculed the idea. I know — I was one of them. Bruce Chen does not have top-of-the-line stuff. Why would you make him your No. 1 pitcher? I’m starting to think it was because Bruce Chen has a top-of-the-line mental approach.
Look at this game: Chen did not have his best stuff and he was getting squeezed by home-plate umpire Dan Bellino. As mentioned before, Bruce needs to get the pitches on the corners to have success. An umpire who forces Bruce into the middle of the zone can get Bruce slapped around pretty good.
That’s the way the day started, but somehow Chen remained calm and composed and figured out a way to stay in the game for five innings, earning a win. Chen isn’t going to win any Cy Youngs (Bruce, sorry if I’m the first one to tell you that), but he knows how to pitch, makes the most of what he has and helps the younger pitchers make the most of what they have.
Making Bruce the opening day starter meant he would face the other teams’ No. 1 guys for the first few weeks of the season. Even if he took a loss, Chen has the attitude to absorb the disappointment without coming apart at the seams.
Gutty performances like this are why you want Bruce Chen around.
• Alex Gordon hit leadoff. Since moving to the 1-hole four games ago, Alex is 7-for-17. Small sample size and hitting leadoff is only one of the factors involved, but I’m guessing he’ll stay there a while. On the other hand, Ned Yost does not consult with me before making out the lineup.
• Coming into this game, Gordon’s on-base-percentage was .092 higher than his batting average. So Gordon’s still been taking his walks.
• In the bottom of the first, Jason Kipnis stole second and then third. At that point the Royals had given up 14 stolen bases out of 14 stolen base attempts on this road trip. I’m guessing they’ll address the issue during this next home stand.
• Second inning: Michael Brantley singles and Shelley Duncan goes first to third. Jarrod Dyson comes up throwing, but allows Brantley to advance to second base on the throw. Keeping the double play in order is a big deal.
• The Royals score five of their runs on two-out hits: the hardest kind of RBI.
• With two outs in the fifth inning, Johnny Giavotella makes his third error of the road trip, dropping a pop fly that hits him in the head. Gio also had two hits, walked and scored a run.
• A phrase you hear all the time out at the park is “both sides of the ball.” Fans tend to concentrate on the offensive side (there are more and better numbers to look at), pros consider both sides. If you’re driving in one and letting in two, you’re not helping the team. Guys who play poor defense have to hit better than the guys who are good with the leather.
• Giavotella’s play costs Bruce Chen a half dozen more pitches and (theoretically) allows the Indians to get their three- and four-hole hitters one more plate appearance in the ninth.
• Both Giavotella and Brayan Pena got picked off base.
• In the sixth inning with a pitcher making his major-league debut on the mound—the same pitcher who hit a batter and walked two more to load the bases — Jeff Francoeur swung at the first pitch he saw. This can be considered dumb (why not let the kid pitch himself into more trouble) or smart (the bases are juiced, go for the kill). The conclusion you reach will probably be based on the results of the swing.
• Frenchy popped up. (I’m guessing it was a case of over-swinging, but if you give Jeff Francoeur the opportunity to be aggressive or passive, he’s usually going to be aggressive.)
• Chen finished his five innings, Tim Collins came in and got the Royals through the sixth and one out in the seventh and then Aaron Crow got the next two outs: Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Lopez. Duncan, the only other right-hander in the lineup was leading off the eighth. Manny Acta went with left-hander Lonnie Chisenhall, Ned countered with Jose Mijares (which is why it’s nice to have two lefties in the pen) and got the game to the ninth with a three-run lead.
• Use enough pitchers and you’ll eventually find someone who doesn’t have it and that may have been closer Jonathan Broxton. The tight strike zone did not help, but Broxton seemed to have problems of his own, eventually bringing the winning run to the plate by walking two batters.
• Jose Lopez hit the ball to Irving Falu (who had replaced Giavotella as a pinch runner) to end the game: a 4-6-3 double play.
• The Royals have not had a losing road trip and got another four shutout innings from the pen. I imagine that makes for a better plane trip home.