Games » Tampa Bay RaysAug21
The best pitchers duel of the year
The Kansas City Star
The Rays’ David Price has 16 wins and 4 losses, an ERA of 2.28, a 98-mph fastball and is considered a Cy Young candidate. Royals manager Ned Yost said there are probably six true No. 1 pitchers in the American League, and Price is one of them.
Tuesday night, Price lived up to his reputation. He pitched eight innings of scoreless baseball, giving up three hits, all singles. He didn’t walk anybody and struck out eight. It was the kind of performance you expect from a Cy Young candidate.
And Luke Hochevar was every bit as good.
Luke also pitched eight innings of scoreless baseball, gave up one hit, walked three, but struck out 10. If you’re one of those people who can’t understand why the Royals keep Hochevar on the roster, remember this game. Luke can be maddeningly inconsistent, but when he’s right, he can pitch like this.
• Billy Butler got a 3-0 green light in the seventh inning. When a pitcher is dealing, it may be easier to get one big hit than three small ones. In fact, Price never allowed two base-runners in a single inning. Seeing how hard it would be to string together three singles, Yost let Billy take a shot at the cheap seats. Billy got the hittable fastball Ned was hoping for and hit it deep but still flew out to the Rays’ leftfielder, Desmond Jennings.
• This was one of those cases where a walk would have helped Billy’s stats, but not his team. Not all walks are equal. Billy Butler on first with two outs probably would require three more hits to get him around the bases. It was an unlikely event in this game.
• In the ninth inning, Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton hit a weak ground ball between short and third. At the last second, Mike Moustakas cut in front of Alcides Escobar, caught the ball, fired to first and barely got Upton. Third basemen want to take every ball they can from shortstops. If a ball is hit between the two, it means the third baseman is moving closer to first and the shortstop is moving away.
• There was a scary moment in the ninth. The Rays’ Matt Joyce hit a ball toward Johnny Giavotella. Eric Hosmer broke to his right, saw Gio would make the play and retreated to first. Kelvin Herrera, who was on in relief, did his job — covering first on all balls to his left, just in case the first baseman couldn’t. Both Herrera and Hosmer made it to the bag, but Kelvin reached in front of Eric to take the throw.
• My initial reaction was to give a mental mistake to Herrera. His foot was not on the bag, and he tapped his chest after the play (the universal baseball sign for “my fault”). But after the game, Hosmer said the mistake was his. He didn’t call Herrera off once he made it back to the bag. (This is an example of why it’s hard to know for sure what has happened on a baseball field if you can’t talk to the players involved.)
• With two down in the 10th inning, Jeff Francoeur hit a grounder in the hole to Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist. Zobrist bounced the throw to first, and Carlos Pena couldn’t handle the hop. The ball got past Pena, and that moved Frenchy into scoring position. (That play ought to make Royals fans appreciate Eric Hosmer’s defense even more. Hosmer has 54 outstanding plays in our system, and most of them were bad throws that he handled, saving his teammates dozens of errors.)
• Hosmer was at the plate with Francoeur in scoring position, and the game on the line. It looked as if the Rays’ pitcher, Joel Peralta, tried to exploit Eric’s youth and inexperience. After facing a pitcher throwing in the upper 90s, Hosmer saw a 79-mph curveball off the plate, and an 83-mph splitter off the plate. Hosmer showed good plate discipline, didn’t chase and was rewarded with an 82-mph splitter in the zone and dumped it into center field for the game-winning RBI.
• It was a bit surprising that Peralta threw a strike to Hosmer with right-handed Johnny Giavotella on deck. Gio is still making the adjusting to the big leagues and is hitting .202. He also struck out twice in this game.
• When you watch a game on TV, there are things you can’t see well (defensive positioning, for instance) and things you can see better (like the catcher’s set up and signs). When Greg Holland was closing out the game, you could see Salvador Perez look down at the batters’ feet as they set up in the box. Catchers want to know if the batter has changed positions in order to handle a pitch more effectively. Sal would then look up at the batter as he flashed the signs to the pitcher. Catchers also want to know if the batter is peeking back to check the catcher’s positioning.
• It’s not a sure bet, but if the catcher sets up in the middle of the plate, it probably is a breaking pitch. If he moves to a corner, it probably is a fastball. Pitchers rarely control their breaking stuff well enough to hit corners — unless the catcher wants a breaking pitch thrown off the plate.
• After the game, Yost said the plan was to stick close to Price, try to get him out of the game and make it a battle of the bullpens. That is exactly what happened, and the Royals won the battle.
A conversation with Brayan Pena
Last Sunday morning, I stopped Brayan Pena in the clubhouse and asked what he had seen from Bruce Chen the night before, a game that Bruce won against the Chicago White Sox. If you want to know about a pitcher’s performance, you can ask the pitcher or the catcher. The guy on the receiving end also has a pretty good idea of how well a pitcher was throwing.
Brayan said the recent run of good pitching performances pushes all the pitchers. They see teammates pitch well, and they want to do the same. They used Chen’s fastball more often in order to speed the hitter’s bat’s up. Once that’s accomplished, then you can use the off-speed stuff effectively.
Brayan said that Jason Kendall told him to be unpredictable. Everyone is looking for patterns. Does the pitcher go to an off-speed pitch after throwing a fastball for a strike? Does he always do the same thing 0-2? What about 1-2? Is he starting everyone with the same pitch?
But if being unpredictable is good, what about Aaron Crow?
He pitched to Paul Konerko and Alex Rios in the eighth inning Saturday night, threw eight pitches, and seven of them were sliders. He also struck out both batters. Brayan was calling slider after slider in those two at-bats. What happened to being unpredictable?
Here’s the difference: Crow had a nasty slider that night, and the swings Konerko and Rios were taking told Brayan to stay on that pitch. They weren’t picking it up and were chasing pitches out of the zone with off-balance hacks.
A starter needs to think about facing a hitter three times in a game. The more experienced pitchers might have three game plans — one for each at-bat. The pitching pattern in each at-bat is dictated by what happened in the previous at-bat. If they can get away with it, many starters like to add a pitch in each at-bat. For instance, variations of the fastball the first time, mix in a breaking pitch the second time and save that change for the third AB. That way the hitter is always seeing something new.
A reliever is only concerned with one at-bat. He brings his best stuff now.So Crow could just keep throwing his best pitch that night. He didn’t have to worry about facing Konerko or Rios a second time. They would not have a chance to make adjustments to the slider between plate appearances. But if Crow were to face them a second time in the series, then he might have to pitch them differently. Good hitters will make some kind of adjustment, and they would be unlikely to just keep flailing at sliders out of the zone.
So starters have to think about facing a hitter three times in a game. Relievers might have to think about facing a hitter three times in a series. Like I said, everybody is looking for patterns. The first player to recognize one will probably win the at-bat.
Royals Jeff Francoeur and Lee Judge discuss performance levels
Kansas City Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur and Lee Judge have a discussion on performance levels, and differences between Francoeur's 2011 and 2012 seasons. 8/17/12 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)