Games » Baltimore OriolesAug9
Driving the ball
The Kansas City Star
At the All-Star break I asked Ned Yost what he wanted the team to do during the second half, and he said he thought the Royals needed to a better job of driving the ball. Driving the ball usually means pulling the ball and that means “getting the bat head out in front.” That’s technical talk for swinging earlier. Swinging earlier can mean more home runs — and if I’ve counted right the Royals have hit nine in their last five games — but it also means striking out more. (So if you like the home runs, live with the wild swings chasing pitches out of the zone.)
Trying to do both (hitting for power and average) is tricky. The hitter needs to take a contact approach (allow the ball to get deeper) in certain counts and look to drive the ball (hit the ball out in front) in other counts. Even then it all depends on the pitcher: the young Royals hitters need to learn the percentage pitch from each pitcher in each count, pay attention to what’s happening in the game that night, and then figure out when they can try to go deep. That experience takes time. Two of the more experienced Royals guessed right twice in the first inning of this game. Kansas City scored four in the first and never looked back.
After Alex Gordon went deep in the first inning, Alcides Escobar hit a single. The significant thing here was the positioning of the Orioles third baseman, Manny Machado. Machado was in on the grass because of Escobar’s history of bunting for base hits. Those bunts bought Esky another hit when he shot the ball past Machado.
With two down in the first and a 3-0 count, Jeff Francouer got a green light from Ned Yost. Ned told me he likes the 3-0 green light for power hitters and letting Francoeur hack — he fouled the pitch back — was taking shot at a third home run in the inning.
Baltimore’s centerfielder, Adam Jones, made a base-running mistake in the bottom of the first. Jones hit a laser to left, appeared to think it was gone and didn’t exactly bust it out of the box. Hitters who do this — assume home run — and then find out they’re wrong, are embarrassed if they only get a single, so they often push it on the base paths in an effort to get a face-saving double. Gordon threw Jones out easily. They say doubles are made out of the box — so are outfield assists.
Jeff Francoeur doubled to right in the third, continuing his trend of taking the ball the other way since doing extra work with Kevin Seitzer. Last season Jeff did a better job of getting a pitch out over the plate, and he hit .285, 47 doubles, 4 triples, 20 home runs and had 87 RBIs. Getting back to that approach was part of the message he received during his benching, so seeing Francoeur hit balls hard the other way is a good sign that he’s getting back to last year’s approach.
If pitcher Will Smith was frustrated with the home plate umpire, he shouldn’t show it. It doesn’t help and may make the umpire mad. That was part of Jonathan Broxton’s ultra-slow approach to the game: he wasn’t going to let anybody — hitters or umpires — see him sweat. If a player is frustrated, he needs to go out of sight to act that frustration out. Players who smash water coolers in dugouts are seen as out of control. Players who smash water cooler in the area behind the dugout are seen as professional. (The exceptions to this rule are the few players who have the reputation to get away with showing their irritation. Greg Maddux could yell at an umpire to bear down and the umpire might do it.)
A good lobbyist behind the plate can be of immense help to a pitcher. Catchers are constantly talking to umpires while staring straight ahead. They’re often pleading the case of the pitcher, “C’mon, we’re going to need that pitch or it’s going to be a long night.” Or they might ask the umpire to give the same pitch a closer look the next time. Veteran catchers who have a good relationship with the umpires can help a rookie pitcher out immensely.
One morning I looked at the newspaper box scores and saw that my buddy, Russ Morman, had tripled. I called Russ — who is not exactly feet of foot — and asked, “Who died?” Nobody had a heart attack, but it turned out Deion Sanders dove for a Morman line drive and the ball got past him. Same thing with Billy Butler‘s fifth inning triple: right fielder Nick Markakis dove for Butler’s fly ball and the ball got away. There was one down and the ball was hit to right, so it was the perfect time to go for third base. (Although right field in Camden is short — 318 feet — so runners need to keep that in mind when trying to beat a right fielder’s throw.) Butler made it safely to third and then scored on Salvador Perez’s sacrifice fly.
A small moment in the eighth: during a long season that isn’t going well, Eric Hosmer continues to play hard, breaking up a double play to keep an inning alive.
Jeremy Jeffress pitched the ninth, and his leadoff walk of Mark Reynolds forced Ned Yost to get Kelvin Herrera up in the pen. (Pitches thrown in warm-ups count, too.) The Royals count the number of times a pitcher warms up in the bullpen when figuring out their workload.
Ball four to Reynolds appeared to be well within the strike zone, but when umpires set up on the inside shoulder of the catcher they sometimes have trouble with pitches down and away. Pitchers — and catchers — need to know which pitches are getting called strikes and which pitches are getting called balls and adjust accordingly. That’s why inconsistency makes players crazy: don’t call something a ball for eight innings and then make it a strike in the ninth — it confuses everybody.
The headfirst slide is now the slide of choice for many big leaguers, but it does have its disadvantages. If the runner is known to come in head first, infielders aren’t afraid to drop a knee and block the runner off the bag. If the runner comes in feet first, nobody wants to take a spike to the thigh, so the defender is less likely to get in the runner’s way. (And those spikes do leave nasty cuts — Mike Moustakas had one near his thumb a while back after getting spiked on a tag.)
It’s also easier for the runner to get injured on the headfirst slide: the runner’s hands are exposed. It’s easy to get a finger stepped on bent back when reaching for the bag. (This is why you see some players holding their batting gloves in their hands while they run the bases — holding on to the gloves keeps the hand closed and prevents the fingers from being bent back.)
The headfirst slide is faster — unless the ball gets away. The feet-first pop-up slide not only allows a runner to get up and advance to the next base faster, but it present a better picture to the umpire: look at me, I’m already standing on the bag.
Some runners use both slides. Alex Gordon will use the headfirst slide going into second base (it’s faster and he can’t see the throw coming from behind him) and go feet first going into third base, especially if he can see the throw will be late.