Games » Detroit TigersSep25
The Kansas City Star
After the game, Royals broadcaster Rex Hudler said that Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez had thrown first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 32 batters he faced. It seemed like more.
It sounds simple, but first-pitch strikes put the pitcher in the driver’s seat. When a pitcher is ahead in the count, he can use all his pitches and start moving those pitches to the edges of the strike zone. A pitcher who falls behind in the count is often limited to using whatever pitches he can throw for strikes and throwing those pitches more toward the middle of the zone.
It’s not hard to see why every pitching coach has preached getting ahead in the count since David used a first-pitch strike to beat Goliath.
Even when the Royals figured out what Sanchez was doing and started hacking at those first-pitch strikes, they couldn’t square him up. Detroit needed a win to pull into a first-place tie in the division with the Chicago White Sox, and Sanchez came through under pressure.
Royals starter Bruce Chen also threw really well —two runs in six and two-thirds innings — but a quality start was not going to get the job done on a night when Sanchez put up a great start.
The Royals lost 2-0.
• Sanchez gave up three hits (one a bunt single), walked no one and, with the exception of Eric Hosmer, struck out every batter who came to the plate at least once.
• In the second inning with runners on first and second, Chen threw a pitch in the dirt. Catcher Salvador Perez dropped his body and tried to block the pitch, but the ball kicked sideways and away from home plate.
Perez lost track of the ball, but he was looking in the wrong place. He should have been looking at the mound. On passed balls, wild pitches or foul pops, the pitcher points at the ball to help the catcher find it.
• Bruce gave up two singles, a wild pitch and a walk in the second but didn’t give up a run. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Chen got Omar Infante to hit a shallow fly ball, then struck out Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Power hitters sometimes have trouble with soft throwers. They would rather have a guy throwing 95 mph than 75 mph.
• In the third inning, Johnny Giavotella started a 4-6-3 with a backhand feed to Alcides Escobar. Here is what that means. The traditional method for the second baseman to feed the ball to the shortstop on a double play is to turn the chest toward second base, then flip the ball underhand or overhand to the shortstop. The backhand feed lets the second baseman skip the upper-body turn and just flip the ball with a backhand motion (thumb down) to second.
• The backhand feed is faster, but the second baseman can’t get much on the throw. That being the case, the second baseman has to know when he can use the quicker toss and when he’s too far away to make it work. (Some teams don’t like guys using this flip. They think it’s too easy to throw the ball away.)
• Sanchez did not give up a hit until the fourth inning, and then he immediately gave up another one. When a pitcher is really dealing, one of the methods of breaking his rhythm is to find a way — any way — to get a runner on and put the pitcher in the stretch.
• In the fourth inning, Detroit’s Gerald Laird hit a ball to first baseman Eric Hosmer, and Hosmer flipped the ball to Chen as Chen came over to cover the base. The umpire ruled that Bruce missed the bag. It appeared that Bruce got the side of his foot on the side of first base, but the umpire didn’t see it that way.
A pitcher covering first have to hit the side or corner of the bag. Putting his foot in the middle of first base is a great way to get injured when the runner does the same thing.
• Hosmer is very good at all the weird throws a first baseman has to deal with: underhand, overhand, far, close and — one of the most difficult — hitting a pitcher on the move. First basemen use a “dart throw” (put the ball by your ear and throw it like a dart) for the in-between distances.
• Bunting is another tactic for dealing with a pitcher who is throwing well. In the sixth inning, Alcides Escobar bunted for a hit. According to the TV guys, without his bunt hits, Alcides would be batting .274. And that doesn’t count the “swinging away” hits that got past the third basemen playing in for a bunt.
• The Detroit hitters saw 29 pitches in the first inning, 22 pitches in the second and 19 pitches in the third. It looked as though it would be a short night for Chen, but then the Tigers extended Chen’s outing by seeing only nine pitches in the fourth, six pitches in the fifth and seven pitches in the sixth inning.
• As I’ve noted before, games are often won or lost in the sixth and seventh innings. Those are the “bridge” innings between the time the starting pitcher leaves and the game can get to the backend of the bullpen, where the set-up man and the closer are waiting to do their thing.
• Games also can be lost in the eighth inning if the opposing team has a dominant closer. The eighth may be the last chance for the offense to score and keep the closer in the pen. In this game, Sanchez was throwing so well and efficiently that it seemed unlikely that Tigers manager Jim Leyland would give the ball to closer Jose Valverde. He didn’t.
Stuff you can learn from TV
Just like any other fan, when the team is on the road I rely on the TV and radio crews for my information about the Royals. Ryan Lefebvre and the gang had a couple of good insights that I thought I’d share, just in case you missed them:
Catchers who throw out more than 30 percent of base stealers are considered good. Salvador Perez has thrown out 42 percent of them and picked off five.
On the Royals’ last home stand, Jeff Francoeur hit .323. Jeff told me that he had started to choke up on the bat and felt better since doing so. I don’t know if that’s why he hit well on the last home stand, but to paraphrase Crash Davis, “If he thinks he’s hitting because he’s choking up, then he’s hitting because he’s choking up.”