Games » Cleveland IndiansAug1
Five No. 3s
The Kansas City Star
Luis Mendoza threw seven and a third innings and gave up two runs, the fifth quality start in his last six outings. There’s a theory floating around Kauffman Stadium that I’ve heard several times recently: Forget aces and No. 1 pitchers. Find five guys who cDan throw 200 innings and give the Royals quality starts. Find five No. 3 starters who can get you to the seventh inning with a chance to win.
It may not be the most glamorous game plan, but Mendoza did nothing to hurt the theory Wednesday night.
First inning: The Indians appeared to ambush Mendoza. When hitters think the pitcher is going to try to get ahead in the count with fastballs, they sometimes “ambush” him — swing at the first fastball they see. Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley swung at every fastball Mendoza threw for a strike. Only Choo got a hit, and the aggressive swinging meant Mendoza got out of the first inning using only 11 pitches.
In the bottom of the inning, the Royals ran a double steal with Alcides Escobar on second and Lorenzo Cain on first. The Indians catcher, Carlos Santana, rushed his throw and chucked the ball into left field, scoring Escobar. Santana got the E-2, but Zach McCallister, the Indians pitcher, was slow to the plate, and that appeared to force Santana to try make up time with a quick throw.
Cain went to third on the error, and Billy Butler drove in Lorenzo with a grounder to second. Good situational hitting: The infield was back, and Billy did not need to get a ball in the air to score Cain.
Second inning: With two, outs Chris Getz walked and stole second. Jarrod Dyson drove him in with a single. Jarrod, who had two hits and drove the ball to the center-field wall on the only out he made, told me after the game that he was getting a lot of fastballs to hit. The Indians did not want to walk him and have Jarrod put himself into scoring position with a steal.
So they pitched to him. Dyson singled, drove in Getz and then put himself in scoring position with a steal. McCallister, who has an inward turn in his delivery (kind of a coiling action in his windup that takes awhile to complete) was taking too long to get the ball to the plate, and the Royals were taking advantage. Dyson stole second even when the Indians guessed right and pitched out.
Fourth inning: With a 3-1 count, Carlos Santana hit a home run that had to be reviewed by the umpires. Kauffman Stadium has a railing behind the outfield wall, and if the ball hits that railing and comes back on the field, it can look like a double off the wall to the umpires. The brightly lit field-level scoreboards in left and right don’t make things any easier. It’s kind of like taking an eye test with the chart held up behind a neon sign from the Las Vegas Strip.
Fifth inning: The Royals didn’t do anything in the third or fourth innings, going 1-2-3 in each. But when Escobar got on in the fifth, things changed. McCallister gave up four stolen bases in the first two innings, and this time he was going to put a stop to it.
With Alcides on first and Lorenzo Cain at the plate, the Indians pitcher used a slide step (barely picking up his front foot) in order to get the ball to home plate more quickly. He also attempted six pickoffs. Whether it was the distraction of the pickoffs or the fact that a slide step can make the ball stay up in the zone, McCallister threw Cain a hittable curve even though he had Lorenzo down 1-2.
Cain doubled down the left field line, and Escobar scored from first.
Seventh inning: Mendoza was still pitching. The Indians’ aggressive hitting hadn’t worked and kept Mendoza’s pitch count low. He started the inning at 75 pitches and then issued his first walk. At this point of a game, a manager tends to watch his starter closely. If he sees any sign that the starter is tiring or having a problem, he usually will pull the plug.
Mendoza’s walk wasn’t a huge issue, it was more of a warning sign. Maybe he was starting to lose it. The Indians’ DH, Jose Lopez, then smoked a grounder that seemed headed for left field (hard-hit balls late in games are another warning sign), but Mike Moustakas dove for the ball, threw from his knees to second, Chris Getz stretched like a first baseman to stay on the bag, stepped back and threw to first to complete the double play. Afterward, manager Ned Yost called it a huge play and said it was as difficult a double play as you’ll ever see.
Mendoza went from being in trouble to being out of trouble in a single 5-4-3. (Find the video online. It’s well worth your time.)
Eighth inning: Mendoza started the inning, got an out, then gave up a double to the No. 9 hitter and was set to face the top of the order. The Indians’ lineup had already seen Luis three times, and Yost didn’t want them to have a fourth at-bat against him, so he brought in Jose Mijares. (Mijares has a hit by pitch in the scorebook this morning, but did not appear to hit Shin-Soo Choo.)
Ninth inning: Greg Holland came in for his first save of the 2012 season, and I’ve got to say it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the average Jonathan Broxton save. Holland worked quickly and went 1-2-3. No anxiety. No drama. Just an efficient performance that got the job done.
Do your job
The Royals were doing some early work — it was absolutely smoking hot on the field — and I stopped to chat and sweat with first-base coach Doug Sisson. I asked about the team’s mood, and he had an interesting answer: “We’re not allowed to be happy. We’re not allowed to be sad.”
Baseball players can’t look too far behind or too far ahead. The only moment that matters is the next pitch. Whatever your job is on that pitch, do it. Then do it on the next one and the next one. Do it until the ballgame is over, come back the next day and do it again. I asked Doug whether he thought anyone was giving up at this point, and he started laughing. “We better not,” he said. “We’ve got 60 games to go.”
And if they do it right, they will play them one pitch at a time.
Gordo’s hat and bats
I was right, Alex Gordon is once again attempting to wear the same cap all season. The smell has gotten bad enough that he occasionally douses it with Axe body spray. (Now there’s an endorsement opportunity that’s being missed.)
Once we dealt with the all-important hat issue, we talked about breaking bats. I wanted to know if most of Gordon’s broken-bat hits went to left field. First Alex said he didn’t know, but then he thought about it and said maybe 75 percent went there.
Whatever the number, the reason Alex gets a lot of opposite-field broken bat hits is this: Pitchers often try to jam Alex. He often trys to let the ball get deep, and then he’s forcing the ball out to left field. Gordon uses a thin-handled maple bat (they’re more brittle than ash), so the combination of factors means a lot of broken-bat hits to left and left-center.
I don’t know how knowing this changes your life, but if you’re in the stands and Gordo shatters a bat on a hit to left, you can now explain why to the person next to you.
Tagging runners at the bag with Royals coach Eddie Rodriquez
Kansas City Royals coach Eddie Rodriquez demonstrates methods of tagging out runners sliding into a base, to the Star's Lee Judge. 7/19/12 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)