Games » Pittsburgh PiratesJun9
One weird inning
The Kansas City Star
I guess we should’ve known it was going to be an unusual game when Billy Butler stole a base. A Royals pitcher also got a hit and an RBI, we almost saw a 9-2 force-out, Mike Moustakas missed first base, the bottom of the 4th inning took 29 minutes and I’m fairly certain a cat married a dog (or whatever it was Bill Murray said in “Ghostbusters”).
Let’s go back and examine the train wreck that was the bottom of the fourth inning. Vin Mazzaro just got a hit and drove in a run in the top of the inning. The Royals were up 3-0 at that point and I’m guessing Mazzaro went out to pitch the bottom of the 4th inning with a song in his heart.
Mazzaro then walked the first batter, never a good sign, and hit the second batter, which brought the tying run to the plate. After that it was a montage of bleeders, jam shots and weird plays. Eric Hosmer had a bases-loaded fly ball that everybody thought was going to get caught land at his feet. (There’s gotta be a story behind that one.)
Hosmer had the presence of mind to pick up the ball and throw a one-hop strike to Brayan Pena at the plate. The throw beat the runner (before he left for Pittsburgh, Hosmer told me he wanted to throw a runner out from right field—he almost did), but Pena bobbled the ball and the runner was safe. Billy Butler had a possible double play ball—a tough double play, but still a possible double play—go off the heel of his glove. Mike Moustakas had a slow roller he had to put in his back pocket. It was just weird play after weird play with occasional bad defense thrown in and before the inning was over, the Royals had given up five runs on three hits.
Here’s the problem: In 2011 interleague play, the Royals outfield was hitting so well they thought they could afford to use Billy Butler as a pinch hitter. In 2012, the team isn’t hitting that well and they felt they needed to keep Billy’s bat in the lineup. That means four of eight players are either out of position or subpar at their position: Francoeur, Hosmer, Butler and Betancourt.
Let’s say you go the other way and keep the best defense on the field. You’re then talking about benching the Royals’ best hitter on a team that is struggling offensively. Take Yuniesky Betancourt off the field—the defense doesn’t get better—and most of the Royals offense for the last two days goes with him. Ned Yost is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
Watching bad defense should make us appreciate how good the defense was early in the season—and have us counting down the days until the Royals play by American League rules once again.
During an in-game interview, Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett said he was watching the Royals hitters to find out if they “ambushed.” As previously explained, that’s baseball slang for hitters who jump on first-pitch fastballs. Pitchers want to know if they can get ahead by throwing a fastball for a strike. If hitters never ambush, they’ll constantly find themselves behind in the count.
The Royals ambush a lot, and I plan on asking Kevin Seitzer the team philosophy on this.
With 15 teams in each league, the interleague problems will go on all season in 2013. They need to figure out how to set this up so one league isn’t at a disadvantage throughout the year.
The Pirates are extremely aggressive on the base paths. Clint Hurdle picked this up from Ron Washington the year Hurdle served as the Texas Ranger hitting coach. Hurdle knew his team would run itself into outs and make mistakes while they learned what was possible and what wasn’t, but he wanted to establish a culture of aggressive base running. Sound familiar?
As Doug Sisson told me in spring training, this is the new direction of baseball. Without the power provided by performance-enhancing drugs, teams are emphasizing speed.
- Speaking of speed, the Pirates pulled off a double steal in the 3rd inning. Brayan Pena went after the trail runner. This is often a better bet than the lead runner because the runner on first has to wait to make sure the runner on second is really going. Vin Mazzaro’s full leg-kick took too long and both runners were safe.
With multiple runners on, the catcher will step out in front of the plate and give a series of signs. He’s alerting the infielders about what he plans to do with the ball if a runner takes off.
- Some things went right: twice Eric Hosmer doubled to lead off innings and twice Brayan Pena did his job and moved him over to third base (although Hosmer got lucky when he broke for third and the pitcher fielded the ball, but fell toward first base and decided to get the easy out).
Unfortunately, twice Alcides Escobar couldn’t finish the deal by getting Hosmer home. Once he got to a 1-2 count and hit a curveball back to the pitcher (Vin Mazzaro picked him up with his single), but the second time—in the 8th inning—Esky chased a sinker down and in on the first pitch.
Escobar needed a pitch up in the zone he could drive to the outfield or a pitch out over the plate he could drive up the middle. A grounder to short or second would get the job done, but a grounder to third—and that’s about the only place a righty can hit a sinker down and in—wouldn’t. Esky chased the sinker, hit it to third and Hosmer had to hold and never scored.
- In the 6th inning with runners at first and second, Clint Robinson hit a fly ball to left field. Hit the same fly ball to right and the runner on second—Brayan Pena—could have advanced from second to third. Then Pena might have scored on the subsequent fly ball Alex Gordon hit.
Better situational hitting and the Royals pick up two runs.
Brayan Pena deserves credit for blocking a pitch in the dirt with a runner on third.
According to the TV announcers Aaron Crow had an ERA over 5.00 as a starter in the minor leagues. Being a reliever allows Crow to use just two pitches—fastball and slider. If those numbers are correct maybe the bullpen is where he belongs.
In the 8th inning the Royals guessed right and pitched out on an attempted steal, but Brayan Pena’s throw was off-line. Alcides Escobar did a nifty job—making the catch and then the tag to get an out.
Just so you know
After Friday night’s blown rundown, a reader claimed that Ned Yost must not be doing his job. The reader took the blown rundown as evidence that the Royals have not been properly drilled on conducting the play.
This is untrue. I was there in spring training and watched them work on this multiple times. They even brought over the fastest base runners from the minor league fields to make the exercise more realistic. The base runners were told to try to embarrass the major leaguers. In other words: Give us your best shot and make this a realistic drill.
Unfortunately, reality tends to be different than practice. There’s only so much you can do to prepare for what is actually going to happen when the game begins. If the Royals messed up the play, it’s not because they didn’t practice the play.
A likable player
A couple of people I respect seem to like Clint Robinson. After what he had to say upon getting called up, I can see why. Robinson refused to whine about being blocked from a shot at the big leagues by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler: “It’s just a business. When you have guys in front of you like Billy and Hosmer…they’re proven stars. You can’t get mad at that. That’s what you want the Royals to do. You want to take one of those guys out of the lineup and call me up? That doesn’t make sense.”
Why not leave him in?
There are people who hate the concept of pitch counts, but I get why teams use them. When a starting pitcher takes the mound there are only so many bullets in the gun—and nobody’s sure how many. There has to be some number of pitches that will injure an arm. So somewhere between 0 and 1,000 is a number that will be too much, depending on the guy, the situation and the mechanics, just to name a few factors.
I once read an article in Sports Illustrated that said a pitcher could be fine at 115 pitches and need surgery just a few pitches later. When it happens, it will happen very fast. As the arm gets tired, it falls into different slots. As the muscles fatigue, more strain is carried by the joints.
The reason I’m writing this is Johan Santana threw a no-hitter in his previous start, but he needed 134 pitches to do so. In his next start, Friday night, he gave up four homers and six runs over five innings.
If you go to the mound and ask a pitcher how he is, he’ll often tell you he feels fine…but that’s not the point. The larger question is not how do you feel now, but how will you feel tomorrow or a week or a month from now? I have no way of knowing whether Santana’s poor outing had anything to do with throwing 134 pitches in his previous start—but I’m pretty sure it didn’t help.
Minor league phenom
I just wanted to alert you to a player that might be the answer to the Royals’ current problems at second base. During his time in Triple A, this player has hit .303 with a .373 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .444. He’s known as an excellent situational hitter, a great bunter, a very consistent and smooth defender, and a stolen base threat. He’s considered a great teammate and a smart ballplayer. He’s currently hitting .429, has an on-base percentage of .500 and is slugging .714.
His name is Chris Getz.
Chris and I were talking about fans who get excited about minor league numbers. Here’s what he had to say, “We were all that guy at some point in our career, that’s how we got here.” Apparently, the grass is always greener on minor league fields.