Games » Houston AstrosJun19
‘Impatience will kill you’
The Kansas City Star
That was Ned Yost talking about — in no particular order — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder. Same goes for Luke Hochevar: if you can see that a player has what it takes to be successful, you have to patient with them — sometimes, extraordinarily patient.
First-round draft picks who show flashes of brilliance in an organization starved for starting pitching will get a lot of chances. Luke Hochevar made the most of this one, recording 4? no-hit innings, 7? shutout innings and six strikeouts.
If you are one of those people who wonders why the Royals keep giving Luke Hochevar chances, here’s your answer: Games like this one.
First inning: Baseball slang changes all the time, and one of the current phrases for hitting a ball hard is “barreling it up.” It means getting the barrel of the bat to the ball at a good angle. Billy Butler is an absolute genius at barreling up a ball. Billy barreled up a 90 mph two-seam fastball on the inside part of the plate — which is not easy to do — and homered to left field.
Second inning: With two outs, Jarrod Dyson, hitting in the 8-hole, walked. This was a good thing because it allowed the Royals to clear the pitcher’s spot before the next inning. If Hochevar made an out, the third inning would have started off with Alex Gordon at the plate. Luke screwed up this plan by getting a hit. This is normally considered a good thing, and in reality it is.
But pitchers who have to run the bases sometimes struggle on the mound in the next half-inning. Luke got back to the mound, walked the leadoff batter, induced a fielder’s choice, then hit a batter, but he got out of it with a double play. In interleague play, fans should pay attention to what a pitcher who runs the bases does in the next half-inning.
Third inning: Yuniesky Betancourt singled and then was pushed to second base by a walk to Billy Butler. One out later, Yuni advanced to third base on a fly ball to right field by Mike Moustakas. When Alcides Escobar bounced a single up the middle, Betancourt scored easily from third, instead of having to do it from second base. Yuni isn’t that fast, and there’s no guarantee he would have made it.
An insurance run allows pitchers to be more aggressive any time the opposition doesn’t have a runner on base. If the tying run is still on deck, the man at the plate can’t tie the game. Betancourt’s heads-up base running gave Hochevar a bit of breathing room.
Fifth inning: The Royals ran yet another “wheel play” (we first saw this in St. Louis), and Mike Moustakas made a diving catch of a bunt attempt that was popped in the air.
Here’s how the play works: With a runners on second (or first and second) and the bunt in order, the shortstop breaks for third before the pitch is delivered, and the third baseman “crashes” the plate. Meanwhile, the first baseman is also crashing the plate, and the second baseman eventually covers first.
In order to run this play, you have to be very sure that the hitter at the plate is going to bunt. Much of the infield is left unprotected, and the corner infielders are right on top of the plate. Should the batter swing away, bad things can happen.
You see this play more often in the National League. When I asked Chris Getz why, he said it was because a pitcher at the plate is the surest bet to be bunting. It seems we may not have seen the last of the wheel play. Watch for it in interleague play in National League cities.
Seventh inning: Hochevar came to the plate, which let you know what Yost was thinking. Hoch had a low pitch count and a shot at a shutout. In the bottom of the inning, Hochevar gave up a single before Butler and Escobar turned the most difficult double play in baseball, the 3-6-3. This play is especially difficult for a right-handed first baseman because it requires him to pivot and reset his feet before throwing to second base.
Eighth inning: With two outs, Luke walked Houston’s Jed Lowrie, then gave up a single to Carlos Lee that caromed high off the left-field wall. Alex Gordon played the carom off the short porch in left and then tried to throw Lowrie out at third. Normally, it would be a mistake to do this. Lee would have been the tying run, and a throw to second base would have kept that runner at first and the double play in order.
The distance from the short porch to third base might have played a role. It’s possible Gordon had a good shot at throwing out the lead runner and keeping the tying run at first. In fact, Lee did not attempt to advance until Gordon’s throw got away from Moustakas.
At that point, Ned brought in reliever Aaron Crow. Hochevar was showing signs of tiring, and the bullpen has been outstanding. Everyone is rested, and it’s common for managers to make sure that pitchers who pitch well and go deep in games are protected against losing those games.
The move worked. Crow closed out the inning with a strikeout.
Ninth inning: Escobar led off with a hit, and Yost chose not to bunt with Humberto Quintero at the plate. The Royals opted instead for the hit and run. Quintero swung through the ball, and Escobar was thrown out. Quintero singled, Dyson hit a line drive to third and Humberto was doubled off first base.
In the bottom of the ninth, Jonathan Broxton came in and did what he generally does — he got the save and made it interesting.
See the ball, hit the ball … but you really have to see the ball
Kevin Seitzer, the Royals’ hitting coach, was talking about pitch selection and how it goes wrong. Too many hitters have cluttered minds. They are thinking about their mechanics or what the pitcher did the last time or what the pitcher might do this time. While all that is going on between their ears, they forget to see the ball. (It may sound strange, but I can tell you from personal experience that it happens all the time. The most important thing you can possibly do in the batter’s box — seeing the ball — gets ignored.)
The right process is to think mechanics outside the box and clear your mind once you cross the white line. Thinking about mechanics in the box won’t help. I once asked George Brett whether all he was thinking about was seeing the ball and he said no. “I’m not thinking about seeing the ball, I’m seeing the ball.”
If you need help getting your mind around that bit of wisdom, what it means is this: when he was hitting well, Brett’s mind was completely calm and clear, no conscious thought. He would put himself on automatic pilot, see the ball and let his body react. That was when he was going well. When he was going badly, Brett knew what the hot-dog vendors were saying, his focus was all over the place and seeing the ball got lost.
The process works like this: The hitter has a “broad” focus directed on the pitcher. The hitter usually has some kind of movement going. He may be taking half-cuts at an area, thinking, “Right here, right here.” All hitters come up with some kind of pre-swing routine.
Once the pitcher starts his motion, the hitter takes a breath — fresh oxygen for the brain — and holds it. He also shifts into “fine” focus, picking up a spot or “window” in which the pitcher releases the ball. Some hitters are so good at this that they can tell what the pitch is upon release — just by the way it comes out of the pitcher’s hand. Some hitters say they see the spin of the ball and read the pitch from the seams. Others say they can’t. But the best hitters have calm minds and complete focus. Brett told me he often didn’t know what he hit, just that he got a pitch in his zone and he knew what to do next.
The mind-set should be that every pitch is a strike until it’s not. It’s not “maybe yes, maybe no.” That can leave a hitter locked up on a pitch he didn’t expect. That’s OK before two strikes — if you’re not looking for it, don’t swing — but with two strikes, a hitter should assume he will be swinging until the pitch is so far out of the zone that he can’t.
Of course, all this is simpler for me to describe than it is for hitters to do. That’s why I’m writing for a living instead of making my money swinging a bat.