Games » Chicago White SoxAug7
How Bruce Chen won
The Kansas City Star
After Bruce Chen’s last start (two-and-two-thirds innings pitched, seven hits, four earned runs), manager Ned Yost said Bruce needed to pitch better. Ned said he thought Bruce needed to establish his fastball, speed the hitters’ bats up and then slow the bats down with his off-speed stuff. That was exactly what Chen did in this one.
Bruce was in the upper 80s right away. He actually threw a 90-mph fastball at one point, and, despite giving up a leadoff homer to Gordon Beckham, the formula worked. A quality start, six-and-two-thirds innings, seven hits, two earned runs, and Bruce had his first win in a month.
With Chen on the mound, the Royals’ corner defenders need to be ready. Bruce got 20 outs. Two were strikeouts, and the other 14 were made by corner defenders. Low velocity means hitters will tend to pull the ball down the lines. Mike Moustakas told me he has to be ready with Bruce on the mound. Chen runs a cutter in on right-handed hitters, and they tend to pull the ball to keep it off their hands. That means plenty of business for Moose.
In the second inning, Chicago starter Jake Peavey tried to get Eric Hosmer to chase balls out of the zone. Hosmer wouldn’t and walked. If you chase pitches, big-league pitchers won’t give you anything to hit. If you don’t chase, they come into the zone. In Hosmer’s next at-bat, Peavey was more aggressive. Eric crushed a ball, but hit it to the deepest part of the park.
To his credit, Hosmer really went after Alexei Ramirez, the pivot man on 4-6-3 double play that followed the walk. Hosmer didn’t get there, but teammates appreciate the effort.
- Also in the second, Chris Getz probably saved a run. Chicago’s Alex Rios stole second and Royals shortstop Tony Abreu covered the bag. Catcher Brayan Pena’s throw tailed off to the right-field side, but Abreu — who might be unfamiliar with Pena’s throws — was tangled up with the runner.
Chris, who is a little more familiar with Brayan’s tendencies, ran to the spot a bad throw would go and kept the ball on the infield. If Rios had jumped up and made it to third, he might have scored on A.J. Pierzynski’s subsequent groundout. Pena once told me he loved Getz for all the times Chris kept a bad throw from costing him an error.
Alex Gordon singled in the sixth, stole second when Getz could not get a high pitch in play on a busted hit-and-run and moved to third when Getz hit the ball to the right side. That meant Gordon could score on a Mike Moustakas lineout to right. Gordon got a hit, a stolen base and a run scored. Moose got an RBI and a sac fly, but don’t miss Getz moving the runner over, which made the run possible.
In the seventh, Jeff Francoeur came to the plate, saw Chicago’s third baseman, Ray Olmedo, playing back and bunted for a hit. After Pena flew out, Hosmer singled to right. Frenchy went first to third. When their run is meaningful, base-runners want to get to third base with one down whenever possible. Get to third with one down, and the run can score without a hit.
Abreu hit a fly ball that landed in the left-center gap. Frenchy scored, and Hosmer also tried to go first to third. The ball was picked up by Chicago’s leftfielder, Dayan Viciedo who is right-handed. That meant Viciedo was going away from third and would have to do a pivot to throw the ball. Both those things meant Viciedo would not have much momentum behind his throw.
Still, Viciedo got off a good throw, and the ball beat Eric to third base. Hosmer then did a swim move — reaching out with a hand, getting the defender to try to tag that hand, then pulling the hand back — and may have beaten the tag. Unfortunately, the throw beat Eric, and umpires tend to call people out when that happens.
I never saw a replay that showed how far Hosmer had advanced on Abreu’s fly ball. (I think everyone thought it would be caught.) If Hosmer was all the way to second, advancing was not a bad idea. If he was well short of that, it was a risky move.
- Kelvin Herrera followed Chen. Yost seems to like that move — the Royals’ softest thrower followed by their hardest. Herrera’s changeup is as hard as Chen’s fastball. That means Kelvin has to follow the same formula as Chen: speed their bats up before slowing them down. His 87-mph changeup isn’t effective following Chen’s 87-mph fastball.
That’s probably why Gordon Beckham saw nothing but heat from Herrera: 97, 97, 98 and 98 mph to finish him off. Generally speaking, Herrera probably doesn’t want to use a change until he’s set it up. If it’s the first pitch a hitter sees, the changeup is less effective. Throw a couple of 99-mph fastballs, and 87 will have the hitter coming out of his shoes.
- Finally, in the ninth inning with nobody out, Abreu doubled. For the third time in a row, Ned has not asked a left-handed hitter to bunt in that situation, but has allowed them to try and pull the ball to move the runner over. Getz did it early in the game, and this time Jarrod Dyson got the job done. The run didn’t score, but it’s always worth noting good situational hitting.
Adding and subtracting
Adding and subtracting refers to a pitching tactic: subtly adding and subtracting a few miles per hour on pitches to disrupt a hitter’s timing. Say the hitter is in a 2-0 count and expects a fastball, but instead of the pitcher’s normal 95-mph fastball, the hitter gets one at 92. This very slight difference in velocity can make a hitter miss the sweet spot on the bat, and a line drive becomes a pop-up.
OK. Sounds great. Why doesn’t everyone do it?
Several reasons. First, the pitcher has to know how to physically do it. It might be a slightly different grip, spreading the fingers or burying the ball back in the palm — either of which will make the release less efficient. Second, the pitcher has to have the confidence to do it. Throwing less than your best stuff with the game on the line takes some huevos rancheros. Third, the pitcher also has to have the seniority to do it.
Bruce Chen explained. Chen has been around for a while and is known as a smart pitcher who uses all the tricks in the book to get a hitter out. If Bruce gives up a home run on less than his best fastball, it’s OK. He’s just pitching. It’s the same with Justin Verlander. The Detroit star can throw 91 mph, give up a hit, and it’s OK even though he’s got a 100-mph fastball when he needs it. Verlander is pitching.
But if Kelvin Herrera does the same thing, someone might ask why he wasn’t going with his best pitch. Herrera doesn’t have the reputation necessary to get away with making the same mistake that’s OK for Chen or Verlander. So the young pitchers on the Royals’ staff may eventually get around to mastering the art of adding and subtracting, but it’s something that will only come with time.