Games » Tampa Bay RaysJun26
The offense comes alive
The Kansas City Star
After the game, manager Ned Yost was asked about his offense. The Royals have scored eight runs in each of the last three games, and someone wanted to know what he was seeing from his team. “They’re scoring more runs.” Why? “That’s the $64 million question.” Ned has a very dry sense of humor and some ideas, but he has no absolute concrete answer as to why the Royals’ offense has suddenly come to life.
But later, in the clubhouse, Billy Butler had a theory: A very young team is learning from its mistakes. The Royals’ hitters are doing a better job of getting a ball in the strike zone. Earlier, the hitters were chasing pitcher’s pitches — balls out of the zone.
Once the hitters realize that any time a man is in scoring position with less than two outs, it’s the pitcher who is in trouble, not the hitter. The hitter will become more patient and make the pitcher come to him.
First inning: Hideki Matsui had just hit a fly ball to Jarrod Dyson in center field. There was one out, and 6-foot, 2-inch, 225-pound Carlos Pena was tagging up at third base. Royals catcher Brayan Pena was waiting at the plate. Dyson’s throw beat the Rays’ base-runner. Brayan gloved the ball and then moved his bare hand into his catcher’s mitt in order to secure the ball with both hands. Brayan wanted the ball in his bare hand and his bare hand inside his mitt — completely secure.
But Brayan shifted his eyes to the base-runner too soon and lost the ball in the process.
After the game, Brayan saw me in the clubhouse and said he thought of me right after the play happened. We had recently talked about plays at the plate, and Brayan had told me that if you don’t catch the ball, nothing else matters. The best plate-blocking technique in the world makes no difference if you don’t have the ball.
“I took the hit,” Brayan said. He did, but we agreed that, just like an NFL wide receiver going over the middle, if you’re going to get hit anyway, you might as well catch the ball. (Brayan also had a walk, two singles and caught three pitchers who gave up a total of two runs, so it wasn’t all bad Tuesday night.)
Third inning: Jarrod Dyson was standing on first base when Alcides Escobar hit the ball into the right-center gap. Jarrod took a lead, then hit the gas when he saw Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton turn his back to the infield. That visual cue told Dyson that the ball was over Upton’s head. Jarrod hit second and raced for third.
Meanwhile, Upton played the carom off the wall well and got the ball back into the infield quickly. Royals third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez threw up the stop sign, and Dyson skidded to a halt. The ball got away at home plate, and Dyson once again accelerated and scored easily.
After the game, I ask Dyson whether the stop sign came late, and he said it didn’t matter. He was going to make a very aggressive turn no matter what and hit the brakes if necessary. I then asked Dyson how many strides it takes for him to get up to full speed. He said three.
I have no idea what that’s like. I have no top speed, and it takes me about 15 steps to reach it.
Fifth inning: Royals starter Bruce Chen was pitching to Brooks Conrad. The Rays second baseman had homered in his first at-bat, but this time Chen and Pena got him out on three pitches, a 71-mph curveball, a 76-mph change-up and an 88-mph four-seam fastball that blew by Conrad as if it were 98.
Slow the bats down then speed them up, or speed the bats up then slow them down. Chen was — as Ned Yost described it — “working the accelerator.”
Eighth inning: The Royals led 4-2, and closer Jonathan Broxton was warming up to pitch in the top of the ninth. Alex Gordon was standing on second base. He had doubled and Yuniesky Betancourt, trying to hit the ball to the right side and move Alex to third, had popped out to first. The Rays decided to intentionally walk left-handed hitter Mike Moustakas to get to the right-handed Billy Butler. This also set up a potential double play.
The pitcher was right-hander Brandon Gomes, and before Billy walked to the plate, Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer gave Billy some useful information: Gomes throws his fastball 42 percent of the time. The rest of the time he throws a slider or a splitter.
In his previous at-bat, Billy was right on a fastball, so this time Butler thought he would get something off-speed from Gomes. He did: two sliders out of the zone and then a splitter. Billy was ready for the splitter and lined it into center field for a single. Alex Gordon scored, and the Royals tacked on three more runs before the inning was over.
Jonathan Broxton sat down, and Francisley Bueno came out to finish the game.
I asked Ned what it was like managing in the National League compared with the American League, and no surprise, it’s more complicated. The biggest difference is the need to think further ahead in the NL. When the Royals played in St. Louis under National League rules, I saw Ned set up a ninth-inning matchup with a double switch in the seventh.
Ned told me there might be a situation when he wants to use Greg Holland to get the final out of an inning and then send him back out to get three more. In the AL, no problem. In the NL, Yost might have to deal with the pitcher’s spot leading off the top of the next inning. If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to manage yourself in to a corner when playing in the National League.
And speaking of managing, Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson and I were talking about the use of the intentional walk. Is setting up your defense with force outs worth giving the opposition extra base-runners? (Bypassing a good hitter with a weaker hitter on deck is a different situation.)
Doug said different people see it differently. Generally, there’s more than one way to skin a cat in this game, and sometimes there can be more than one legitimate choice. I think that’s a lesson for all of us. It doesn’t mean fans can never criticize a move their team makes, but it does mean that criticism often needs to be tempered with the knowledge that the manager isn’t an idiot. He just saw the situation differently than you did.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice. It was 3:30 on Monday afternoon, and it was smoking hot at the K. To give the guys a break, the Royals had called off outfielders throwing to bases (they do it the first game of every series). They had two day games in the heat over the weekend, and they were taking a break from the weather.
But the catchers still came out to throw. Chino Cadahia had them practicing their footwork and showing them how it affected their throws to second base. Brayan Pena, Humberto Quintero and Salvador Perez weren’t out there for long, but it still was long enough that all of them were streaming sweat as they left the field.
It was a small moment on hot afternoon in an empty stadium, but it was one that demonstrated what it took to perform well that night when the crowd was watching.
A bit more information on those base-running outs made in the five-run third inning of Monday night’s game: Doug Sisson, who is also the Royals base-running coach, confirmed that the coaches were OK with Billy Butler attempting go first base to third with one out. That is the time you try it, and conditions were right. It’s a play that the Royals feel will pay off in the long run.
Doug said he thinks that when you play in a big park on a team without much power, you better figure out a way to get runs across the plate with a minimum of hits.
And that brings us to the other base-running out. Salvador Perez was rounding first and breaking for second as Eric Hosmer was headed home. Doug said it wasn’t a sure thing that Hosmer would score and Sal getting the throw cut and drawing it in a new direction was a good play.
As long as the run is significant — and tack-on runs are — Doug said he would trade the third out of an inning for a run any day of the week. He figured it would have taken two hits minimum to get Perez home from first and with the 8 and 9 hitters coming to the plate, so the out-for-run trade was a good one.