Games » Cleveland IndiansAug2
What a difference a year makes
The Kansas City Star
What a difference a year makes. One year ago Royals fans might not have been too excited about having Alcides Escobar at the plate with two outs in the 11th inning and the winning run on third. This year, Esky is one of the bright spots. His RBI single allowed the Royals to sweep a series against the Indians and he did it against everyone’s favorite closer, Chris Perez.
In the first inning Shin-Soo Choo singled and stole second. Chris Getz came out in front of the bag to take Brayan Pena’s throw. Chris took that position because Pena’s throws sometime tail to the right and this throw was no exception. Chris had to do some fancy footwork to get around the runner, catch the ball and keep it on the infield. That paid off when Shoo was thrown out stealing third and Asdrubal Cabrera followed that with a single. A simple thing like keeping the ball on the infield probably saved a run. (Mike Moustakas straddled the bag when he received Pena’s throw at third and the significance of that will be discussed shortly.)
Corey Kluber was making his first start in the big leagues (although he made three relief appearances last year). His first pitch was a 92 m.p.h. fastball, and Alex Gordon hit it more than 400 feet. The feeding frenzy was on: after Gordon’s shot, Kluber gave up a single, a single, a walk, a home run, a triple, a single and six runs before the inning was over. He started the inning with an ERA of 0.00 and walked off the mound with an ERA of 81.00.
This is the big leagues and there’s no mercy. The numbers a hitter puts up against a rookie help even things out when the same hitter has to face Justin Verlander. If some kid is getting knocked around the park, every hitter wants in. But give Kluber credit: he made an adjustment between innings (more breaking pitches and cutters, according to Eric Hosmer) and followed the first inning disaster with three and a third scoreless innings. (And got that ERA down to 12.46.)
Amazingly enough, Bruce Chen came out of the game before Kluber. Ned Yost said Bruce just isn’t throwing the ball well right now and needs to pick it up. After Chen didn’t make it out of the third, long reliever Everett Teaford came in and got the final out. Teaford made one big mistake of his own: with a runner on first and an 0-2 count on Carlos Santana, Teaford hung a curveball. Santana homered and the game was tied.
Teaford told me he was trying to be quick to the plate, used a slide step, his front side got out too early, his arm was late and the pitch stayed up. The same story we’ve seen before: a runner affecting the pitch delivered to the plate
In the fourth inning, Brent Lillibridge signaled Kluber to attempt a pickoff at second base. The sign is an open hand. The middle infielder will break and hold out his hand, signaling that he wants the ball. You can see it in the stands, but the runner can’t — it’s happening behind him
Dyson eventually stole third and Gordon — on first at the time — broke for second. The Indians went for the trail runner and the choice was a wise one. The trail runner often gets a worse break because he has to make sure the lead runner is really going. Alex got a bad jump, said he should have shut it down, but didn’t. Gordon got trapped between bases and Dyson then became the target of the defense when he tried to score. The steal of third was fine, it was continuing to second after getting a bad jump that messed up the play.
A thousand swings in three days
After years in the in the big leagues, Jeff Francoeur is trying to change his swing. How hard is that? After all the swings a hitter takes to get here, how hard is it to change that muscle memory? According to Francoeur, it’s very hard. He’s been taking BP and extra BP, every day since Ned Yost sat him down. When the Royals are in the field on defense, Frenchy sometimes slips down to the batting cage behind the dugout to take another 14 or 15 hacks, just to keep the feel of the new swing.
Thursday, I watched Jeff take batting practice in the last round, the round reserved for non-starters. The guys in the lineup that night hit early, then go up to the clubhouse and the AC. The bench players have to stay on the field, waiting in the heat for their turn to hit.
Jeff took round after round on the field until batting practice ended. He then walked off the field directly to the indoor cage where Kevin Seitzer was waiting. Seitzer immediately started throwing Jeff more pitches and Jeff immediately resumed swinging the bat. Batting practice, followed by extra batting practice.
Jeff told he’d probably taken a thousand swings in the last three days. As I climbed the stairs, heading for the press box and passing the indoor cage, I could hear Jeff’s bat and the sharp crack of a ball being struck.
Crack — a thousand and one. Crack — a thousand and two. Crack — a thousand and three. A swing being rebuilt one pitch at a time.
If you haven’t watched the video in which Eddie Rodriguez explains how to make tag on a runner, do so. We need the page hits and it’s well worth your time. Eddie explains the correct technique: straddling the bag while receiving the throw and then dropping the glove down for the tag. Straddling the bag helps the infielder know where he is and control two sides of the bag — the infielder’s feet block the runner from tagging the sides of the bag and force the play to the front of the bag. And that’s where the glove will be.
Eddie expressed some frustration with players who want to come out in front of the bag, make the catch and then reach back to the runner for the tag. Some players do it because the catcher’s throws tend to sail to one side and they need to be able to move with the throw. Other players like it because it avoids contact with the runner.
And that brings us to the subject of respect.
Players earn a reputation with their teammates in a variety of ways: the numbers they put up, their public and private behavior and in some small ways that the public may not notice, but jump out at ballplayers. Teammates are well aware of who straddles a bag and is willing to mix it up with the runner and who comes out in front to avoid contact. (Be aware that coming out in front isn’t always a bad sign — there are reasons to do it as Thursday’s game demonstrated.)
Here are a few things you can watch for if you want to know who has the respect of his teammates:
The double play pivot: there are times that it’s OK to move across the bag laterally or step backwards and use the bag for protection by keeping it between yourself and the runner. But there are also times the pivot man has to bite the bullet and step toward the runner. The move is called a pirouette step and it begins by striding toward the runner with your left foot, hopping over him as he arrives and landing on the other side on your right foot. A pivot man that steps into a runner risks taking a hit and his teammates appreciate it.
Breaking up the double play: It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this, but does the runner jog toward the pivot man and veer out of the base path or does the runner do everything he can to get to second and break up the play?
Plays at the plate: will the catcher straddle the line, block the entire plate and take a hit? Will the runner drop a shoulder and blow up the catcher if he thinks it necessary?
Getting hit by a pitch (my favorite). Will the hitter turn and take a knock for the good of the team? And how does he act after he does it? If he spends too much time nursing his wound, the histrionics aren’t appreciated.
The wall: does an outfielder pull up short when he approaches the wall or will he risk banging into one to make a catch?
The dugout and camera bays: same thing, do the infielders shy away from the railing and crowds or will they go in after a ball?
Grounders: does the player run out routine grounders just in case someone bobbles the ball?
Does the player show disgust by flipping the bat when he doesn’t like the way he hit the ball?
All these clues can be seen from the stands. Watch for them and you’ll get a better idea of who these guys are and what their teammates may think of them.