Games » Tampa Bay RaysJun25
A dominant performance
The Kansas City Star
Nine innings, 113 pitches, eight strikeouts, one walk and no runs. Luke Hochevar threw a complete game and set up the Royals bullpen for the rest of the series. He concentrated on his “core” pitches — fastball, curveball and change-up — which gave him the separation in speed the Royals have been looking for, but pulled out his secondary pitches — cutter, sinker, slider — when he needed them.
In short, Luke Hochevar looked like a No. 1 starter. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s fixed — it’s not the first good stretch of pitching we’ve seen from Luke, but it does mean there’s reason to hope he can become the dominant pitcher the Royals have been waiting for.
So if you’re one of those people who said Hochevar should be cut or that he was worthless or he wasn’t a major league pitcher — and all those things have been said on this website — don’t feel bad, the future is hard to predict.
Just try to keep that in mind the next time you’re ready to complain about a Dayton Moore trade that doesn’t work out.
First inning: Alex Gordon hits what at first appears to be a single, takes a wide turn at first base and heads for second. The Rays centerfielder, B.J. Upton appears far too close to the infield for extra bases, but not only does Gordon make it—he makes it easily.
Once again, the reason is lateral movement. Upton was moving away from second base and had nothing behind the throw. This is not an accident—the Royals cue on lateral movement in order to take extra bases. Pitchers are speeding up delivery times to stop the stolen base and, in response, the Royals are looking for ways to take the extra base.
Yuniesky Betancourt does his job by hitting the ball to the right side and Gordon moves to third. Ben Zobrist does not handle a Mike Moustakas drive to right field, but if Zobrist had made the catch, Gordon’s base running and Betancourt’s situational hitting would have still resulted in a run. Royals 1-Rays 0.
Second inning: Luke Hochevar demonstrates the “separation” in speed that Dave Eiland and Ned Yost are looking for. Hochevar’s fastball is 94 MPH, his change-up is 87 MPH and his curve is 80 MPH. Yost says the slow curve makes Luke’s fastball look 98. As Bruce Chen shows, it’s not velocity, it’s changes in velocity that gets hitters out.
In the bottom of the inning Jarrod Dyson comes to the plate with two outs. The Rays third baseman, Brooks Conrad, is on the grass in case Dyson bunts. Once Dyson has a strike, Conrad moves back to the cut of the grass because the bunt is less likely. Once Dyson has two strikes, Brooks is behind the bag.
Third inning: Before the game Ned Yost talks about defensive shifts and how better information has made them possible. Teams now know where every ball in play was hit and can align the defense accordingly. It’s still an educated guess and pitchers have to demonstrate enough control to pitch to the shift being used.
Hochevar demonstrates that control against left-handed Carlos Pena. The Royals are playing him to pull and Hochevar is pitching him inside to force the ball toward the defense. Hochevar finally gets him on a pitch out over the plate, but it’s a slider. Being a slightly slower pitch, Pena still pulls the slider and hits it to Jarrod Dyson, shifted over toward right.
In the bottom of the inning, leadoff hitter, Alcides Escobar, spots the third baseman playing back and bunts down the left field line for a single. This sets off a five-run inning and is probably responsible for Luke Hochevar’s complete game (more on that later). Gordon follows with a single, a wild pitch moves both runners up, Yuniesky Betancourt singles and drives in two, Mike Moustakas pops out, Billy Butler singles, then Jeff Francoeur singles and drives in Betancourt.
Meanwhile, Billy is thrown out going first to third on Francoeur’s hit. This is later called a “gaffe” by some members of the media, but if you’re going to try to make third base, you do it with one out. It’s generally considered worth the risk because the runner can then score without benefit of a hit.
Billy’s out, but Jeff Francoeur moves up to second on the throw to third and that turns into a run when Eric Hosmer hits a single. Hosmer then steals second and is driven in by Salvador Perez. Sal is then caught rounding first too big. Once again this is termed a mistake, but if Perez did it to ensure the ball got cut off and Hosmer scored, it might’ve been a smart play. (Don’t know for sure, never saw Sal after the game.)
Fourth inning: Two outs, runners at first and second for the Rays. Sean Rodriguez hits a ball to deep centerfield. The only problem for the Royals is this: Jarrod Dyson is in shallow centerfield. Dyson runs forever and catches the ball, probably saving two runs.
In the bottom of the inning, Yuniesky Betancourt has his third productive at-bat of the night, driving in Alcides Escobar with a sacrifice fly.
Fifth inning: Luke Hochevar is in a bit of a jam, he’s got two runners on, no outs and the top of the order coming to the plate. Luke has said he won’t completely abandon his secondary pitches and will use them when he needs to. He needs to—and strikes out the side.
Eighth inning: With the score 7-0, Eric Hosmer hits a changeup the other way for a home run. This is part of what makes Hosmer special. Change-ups are designed to get hitters out in front—Hosmer waited. Pitching outside is designed to take away a hitter’s power—Hosmer can hit home runs to left field. When he’s right, Hosmer’s a handful.
Ninth inning: Hochevar comes out to finish what he started. The offense has made this possible. In a close game, Yost would go to the pen. With a cushion, he can give Hochevar a chance to do something special…and he does. Royals win, 8-0.
Two more reasons Sal Perez is good
He’s wide. This means more balls look like strikes because they’re within the frame of his body. Last season, Matt Treanor told me umpires will tend to call a pitch a strike if it’s between the catcher’s knees.
Reason number two: Sal can “stick it.” That means he has the arm strength to hold a 98-MPH fastball in place. If you’re not strong, a pitch that hard will move the mitt and that might not look like a strike. Catching the ball and holding it in place makes a pitch look better.
(You learn something new every day if you ask the right questions.)
*Could you do that on the dirt?
Head groundskeeper Trevor Vance is worried about the infield grass. We’re in a heat wave, which is tough on turf, but if the Royals can get through the Rays series without a bench-clearing brawl, Trevor will be a happy man.
Until Trevor said something, I’d never thought about what baseball brawls do to the grass underfoot. The Royals groundskeeper wants the playing surface to be perfect for the All-Star game and dozens of people, wearing spikes, pushing and shoving in a wild melee isn’t exactly great for grass.
So for every baseball fight there’s a groundskeeper somewhere nearby, having a nervous breakdown. (Isn’t it amazing how many things you don’t think of until someone points them out?)
When games are over, the press heads downstairs for Ned Yost’s post-game press conference. After that, we head for the clubhouse to talk to the players. If a player had a major role in a game, he’s expected to meet with the media. In my case, I often want to talk about something obscure, so the player I need to talk to may not wait around. As a result, my questions often have to wait until the next day and quite often the first person I see on the field is Doug Sisson. So here are a couple of semi-corrections from Sunday’s game:
Jarrod Dyson sprinted in on a sinking line drive and let it get by him for a double. Doug thought it probably should have been scored an error, but understood how it happened. Sinking line drives have topspin, so an outfielder can get burned when he charges in with the catch lined up and the ball continues to sink. Doug didn’t think it was a mental mistake, but more a misjudgment of the ball’s flight.
Sisson also told me that if an outfielder one hops his throw, it’s low enough to be cut off. So Jeff Francoeur’s two throws yesterday were not mistakes. I asked if any time the trail runner advanced did that necessarily mean something had gone wrong and Doug said no, sometimes you should go for the lead runner. And major league base runners are pretty good about advancing on throws.
There are a lot of unwritten rules in baseball, here’s one of them that pertains to batting practice: if you hit, you pick up baseballs. Friday, the celebrities hit and then walked away, leaving Steve Foster, the bullpen coach to pick up all the balls by himself. First, Steve walked the outfield and threw all the balls to the infield. Then Steve threw all the balls on the infield to the mound. Then he put all the balls in a bag.
Steve, if it happens again next year, come find me—I’ll help you pick up baseballs. Or…I’ll be happy to tell the celebrities to get their butts out there and pick up the baseballs they hit.
P.S. As I pointed out to Steve, it could’ve been worse—the celebrities didn’t hit too many balls out of the infield.