Games » Detroit TigersAug29
A new game plan
The Kansas City Star
The last time Bruce Chen faced the Detroit Tigers, he lost. Badly. It was July 7, and Bruce only pitched three-and-a-third innings while giving up six earned runs. Wednesday night, Bruce faced the same team, pitched eight shutouts innings and won. What changed?
The game plan.
Catcher Brayan Pena talked about the need to keep changing pitch patterns when you see division opponents so often. Brayan usually catches Bruce. Before a Chen start, Brayan watches video of Bruce’s previous few starts. Pena wants to remind himself of what worked and what didn’t. Then Brayan watches video of the opposing team. He looks at their last few games against left-handed pitchers. Once again, Pena wants to know what worked and what didn’t.
He begins to form a game plan. How will they approach each Detroit hitter? What will they do the first, second or third time through the order? Brayan then gets together with Jason Kendall and goes over the plan to see whether Jason has any advice. Next, Pena presents the plan to Bruce and pitching coach Dave Eiland. And finally, they present the game plan to the Detroit Tigers at 7:10 p.m.
So what did they do differently?
Chen and Pena used fewer cutters (a fastball held off center so it runs in on right-handed hitters, one of Chen’s main pitches) and more four-seamers (fastballs that stay straight but are easier to locate). They also broke out a 70-mph curve. Bruce usually is in the mid-70s with his curveball. Brayan and Bruce had been working on a slower version and were saving it for the right moment.
The right moment was the first inning. Detroit’s Austin Jackson led off the game with a double. Andy Dirks moved Jackson to third with a groundout to the right side. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were due up. If Brayan and Bruce were waiting for an emergency, they had one right away.
With a runner on third (and had he scored, it would have been the tying run), Chen struck out Cabrera and Fielder with 70-mph curveballs. Before his swing was complete, Cabrera knew he had been fooled and was going to miss this Bugs Bunny curveball. Miguel shot a look at Chen that seemed to say, “Where did that thing come from?”
There are two ways to you can use velocity to disrupt timing: throw it harder than a hitter can handle or throw it slower. If your top velocity isn’t that high, drop the velocity on your slowest stuff. Suddenly, Bruce had an 18-mph difference in pitch speeds. And you don’t have to throw 70 mph a lot, just enough to make the hitters think about it. The game plan worked.
And five days from now, Brayan and Bruce will need a new one.
• After the game, manager Ned Yost was asked why he didn’t let Chen come out for the ninth inning. Ned said he didn’t even consider it. Bruce had done his job and got the game to the closer. Dirks, Cabrera and Fielder were due up for Detroit.
Ned said that if Bruce had gone out for the ninth and a runner had gotten on base, then he would have had to go get Chen because Yost was not going to let him face the potential winning run and lose the game. So why even go down that road?
• Ned also pointed out that the Royals bullpen was pretty good.
• And here are a couple of reasons Ned didn’t use. Bruce was at 100 pitches and was about to go through the heart of the Detroit order for the fourth time. As you can see from the first part of this column, varying looks is important. Having a tired pitcher try to figure out a fourth way to dance through the Detroit lineup with no room for error would have been asking for trouble.
• And speaking of trouble, in the ninth inning with a runner on, Miguel Cabrera sliced a line drive into the left-center gap, and Jarrod Dyson made a game-saving catch. After the game, Jarrod was asked whether diving for the ball was a big gamble. He said no. He was pretty confident he would have knocked the ball down and held Cabrera to a single if he hadn’t made the catch.
• I asked Mike Moustakas about his collision with Prince Fielder at first base and told him I was relieved that both of them were OK. Moose said, “Well, you knew he was going to be OK.”
Moose bounced off of Fielder, started to go down, grabbed onto Prince and pulled him down on top of him. They got up laughing, so no harm, no foul. And I wouldn’t expect any payback in Thursday’s game … but it’s pretty rare to see a Moose hit a Prince.
• The game-winning RBI came on an Eric Hosmer jam shot that landed behind the mound and scored Moustakas from third. It’s Aug. 29, and the Royals aren’t going to the playoffs, but Hosmer slid head-first for the bag. Some might criticize the technique, but you hope everyone can appreciate the effort.
• Greg Holland got the save, but it wasn’t easy. With two outs, he had the tying run on second, the winning run on first and Jhonny Peralta at the plate in a 2-2 count. At that point, Pena walked to the mound and talked to Holland. After the game, I asked Brayan what was said. Brayan told Greg he wasn’t going to give a sign, but if they were going to get beat, they were going to get beat with Holland’s best pitch. Greg wound up and threw a 98-mph fastball, perfectly located. Strike three. Game over.
Gio makes an adjustment
I asked Johnny Giavotella whether he was starting to get more aggressive on good pitches early in the count, and he said yes. In Triple-A, Johnny could afford to take a pitch to get comfortable. Here he can’t. Without video, minor-league hitters often want to see a pitch come out of the opposing pitcher’s hand before taking a hack. What does this guy have? How does his breaking pitch move? Does his fastball run in on you or stay straight?
If you’re a hitter and you haven’t seen video on a pitcher, the only way to know what he has is to face him. In the big leagues, you don’t have the luxury of giving away a hittable pitch. Let a guy who knows what he’s doing get strike one on you, and you’re in trouble.
So Johnny is learning to be ready on that first hittable pitch. And if he starts hitting it, pitchers will not be able to groove a fastball on him to get ahead. They will have to pitch finer or start throwing secondary pitches to start at-bats. Now the pitcher has a chance of falling behind, and Gio will be in the driver’s seat.
When they say it’s a game of adjustments, they aren’t kidding.